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I'm a writer. I write about life with bipolar disorder - also known as manic depression - so my eponymous alter ego is MaNic Grant.

I've written more than 1 million words: it's the world's longest suicide note.

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

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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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Managing the Managers

4 min read

This is a story about work...

Devops

Building software is no longer about programming. Programming is something that I learned as a child. Programming is quite literally child's play to me. Modern software development involves very little programming. Modern software development is all about delivering massive projects, with massive teams, in massive organisations, and none of this has anything to do with programming. Remarkably little programming gets done by programmers.

I would be surprised if the average number of lines of code written by a programmer in a big organisation was more than a handful a day. In fact, I picked a colleague - a programmer - at random and looked at how many lines of code they've written in the past year - an average of 8 lines per day. That's not a lot of programming.

So what do programmers do all day if they're not writing code? Well, most of them are sitting around scratching their heads, wondering where the problem is in millions of lines of code that they didn't write.

Why are programmers looking at other people's code, trying to find the problems?

Good question.

There are people out there who write lots of code, but most of them are software architects and devops engineers: these are developers. Developers don't just write code though. Developers create systems. Developers know how all the different moving parts fit together to create an entire system. Developers can design, build and assemble the components of gigantic software projects, into working systems. Sure, some of it involves programming, but none of it requires writing programs. Programs are for children. Children write programs. Programming is child's play. Developing software systems is grown-up work, done by developers.

There's a general belief that a programmer is an interchangeable commodity. If you don't like one programmer, fire them and hire another one who "speaks" the same language. Of course, this is idiotic, because programmers in big organisations write 10 lines of code or fewer per day. Most of what is useful and valuable is the specific knowledge which relates to an organisation and its software systems, which only the experienced team members know. Throwing more programmers at a problem makes things worse, not better, because they don't have a clue about anything, except how to read code... millions and millions of lines of code which they didn't write. There's nothing worse than somebody else's code.

The diagram above shows how software is shipped these days. If we were back in the 1980s then the diagram would show copies of a diskette being made and physically distributed, so that people could install it onto their PCs themselves. How software goes from a programmer's computer to your computer is kinda important. How do you think it gets there? Well, there's a lot of magic behind the scenes. The diagram shows the magic trick, but it's so incomprehensibly complex that it remains as good as magic, even though I showed you how the magic trick is done. This is just one tiny part of being a developer: understanding how to actually get software onto people's laptops, tablets and smartphones.

There are a million things a developer knows. They know about the cloud. They know about databases and data. They know about servers. They know about security. They know about performance. All of these subjects are vast. There are experts in every one of those subjects, and there are myriad experts in the specifics of each field. There is an incomprehensibly mountainous amount that a developer needs to know.

So, managers, stuff your spreadsheets up your arse. You have no skills, experience or knowledge which is relevant or useful in the field of software development. You are allowed to exist because you are a shit umbrella, nothing more. You are doing your job if you stop anybody from annoying the developers and programmers, allowing them to do their jobs, and you are being insufferably irritating if you attempt to intervene in the business of software, because software is hard.

Yes, software is really really really hard. It's harder than Excel pivot table macros, or whatever the hardest thing you know is. It's waaaay harder than that, managers.

So, butt out.

Shut up.

Let us do our jobs.

Engineers left to their own devices will produce wonderful things. All the things we take for granted in the modern world are a result of engineers being left alone to get on with building cool shit. None of the wonderful things would have come into existence if the engineers were bothered by some know-noting busybody bloody managers, who tried to interfere.

 

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Discipline

4 min read

This is a story about daily chores...

Cable

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Scrutiny

9 min read

This is a story about influence...

Mound of wires

One of the great benefits of operating my own homebrew website is that I get to see the visitor analytics in all the glorious detail. I can't be certain, but I have evidence that I can count some work colleagues, my girlfriend's mother and other important people as readers, who have never mentioned that they are readers, but I see the evidence all the same.

A colleague from another part of the country was kind enough to tell me that they'd been reading my blog. That was a first. I've had plenty of evidence of colleagues visiting in the past, but they've never explicitly told me that they've read any of my blog.

I sometimes feel a little bit paranoid and vulnerable, having the contents of my messy mind and messed-up life so publicly on display, but I assume that anybody who's going to take the time to read is going to hopefully empathise with my situation and see that I'm mad, not bad.

I write about this scrutiny quite often. Often times I am angry about the invasive nature of security vetting, background checks and suchlike, given my lengthy career and achievements, which I feel should be enough to free me from the tyranny of gatekeepers. Often I implore the lurkers to imagine me at my very worst; to judge me based on their prejudice. Often I wail with agony about those who are seeking to dig dirt; to find reasons to reject me.

Conversely, I'm acutely aware that anybody can access this repository of innermost thoughts and feelings at any time. I'm relatively well-informed about who's reading, thanks to my website's detailed analytics. I can see who's reading, when and for how long, and I can make educated guesses about the impression they might form.

It might seem sensible to present another side of myself, given how important it is to be a bland corporate drone or ideal boyfriend material, in the eyes of colleagues and my girlfriend's mother. It might seem sensible to write under a pseudonym. it might seem sensible to present a sanitised mask; to present only my greatest achievements and to trumpet my successes and finest attributes.

I found it was rather toxic to my mental health to live so much of my life worrying about my professional reputation; worrying about my corporate image; worrying about how presentable I was as a fake person. I found it exhausting keeping my CV spotless and otherwise maintaining a perfect career. I found it exhausting, worrying about gaps in my employment history and whether the organisations I worked for were prestigious enough to be impressive. I found it exhausting making sure that my job titles and projects were grand and magnificent, to maintain the perfect corporate image.

If I really was worried about becoming unemployable and losing my income, then surely I would tear down this website and its associated social media accounts and set about expunging anything unflattering from the digital realm, wouldn't I? If I was a credible professional person, surely I would have a bland corporate identity: faceless except for the unblemished stream of non-stop corporate accolades and achievements, presented in dry bullet points, clothed in a grey suit and completely lacking in any personality or personal identity.

I find it exhausting and toxic to my mental health.

I find it intolerable that the corporate world wants to steal so much of my valuable time, but also my identity, and to insist that I conform to an unrealistic, unhealthy and impossible conception of what the 'ideal' corporate drone would look and act like.

My reaction has been to create an "anti-CV". This homebrew website is everything that colleagues, prospective employers, girlfriends' mothers and others, would never normally see, hear or read about a person. Here is everything that you'd love to know but would never usually be able to find out. Here's all the dirt that gatekeepers wish to dig, presented clearly and concisely.

My thoughts are a little jumbled and confused. I don't know who's friend and who is foe. I don't know when I'm being judged harshly and unfairly, due to prejudice, and when my readers are feeling empathy, sympathy and generally taking an interest in my wellbeing.

I know that some colleagues and others read because they're interested in who I am as a person, and perhaps they even care about me and would like to see me succeed. I know that hardly any of my readers are looking to cause me harm. In fact, most readers are concerned about my welfare and they use my words with kindness: worrying about me and thinking about ways in which they could help me.

My behaviour is a little erratic. I do struggle with dreadful suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety, which threatens to do me great harm, but yet I do not know quite what I'm doing: is this a cry for help, a form of therapy, a coping mechanism, self-sabotage, a folly, foolish stupidity? What consequences are there for acting in contravention of the expected behaviour of a corporate drone? What consequences are there for not complying with social norms; suffering in silence?

I feel happier when I'm writing vast amounts every day, because I feel that I'm a moving target; I feel like the energy and the productivity wards off anybody who might think me stupid, idle and easy to pigeon-hole. I feel like writing wards off anybody who might seek to sum me up with a simple sentence, thinking that they've understood me. I want to be complicated. I want to be interesting. I want to be eccentric. I want to be hard to understand. I don't understand me, so why the hell should you come here and think you've got all the answers?

As usual, I've written more than I intended. Nobody wants to read more than about 700 words, and even then, my thinking is disjointed and hard-to-follow. I've reverted to a stream-of-consciousness comfort zone, where the words pour out, but there's no clear thread of thought and I'm not saying anything except a hotchpotch of jumbled thoughts and feelings without any clear conclusions or intersting insights.

Perhaps there's a human interest angle, but I'd like to return to the time when I wrote think-pieces which explored ideas, as opposed to diary-esque brain dumps, written in a desperate attempt to neutralise overwhelming negative thoughts and feelings which threaten to consume me.

Another thing which occurs to me is how little my mind is occupied. My job is very easy and my working day is pretty boring. My evenings are often spent in social isolation. In fact, most of my life is socially isolated. I have no local friends. My job is not very sociable. There are few social occasions in my life. I am estranged from my family.

I wonder if I'm lonely, but I don't think that I am.

I can remember being lonely in the past, but I don't feel those feelings at the moment.

My brain is very busy.

My brain is intensely noisy.

My brain will continuously present things to be anxious and depressed about, unless it is occupied with something taxing to think about.

Writing is an ideal occupation.

However, my writing is somewhat scrutinised. My girlfriend will read this. My friends will read this. My work colleagues will read this. My sister might read this. Strangers will read this.

Strange.

In some ways I'm incredibly isolated and I mostly inhabit my own mind, alone. In some ways I'm socially disconnected; removed from the normal social interactions that most people have with their friends, family, kids, colleagues and suchlike. I spend vast amounts of time in my own company and/or lost in thought. I can spend a whole day in a trancelike state, thinking.

In other ways I'm not isolated at all. At least I have a mechanism for connecting me with people, even if it's rather atypical. I don't mind that there are work colleagues and my girlfriend's mum, who read my rambling thoughts without acknowledging that they are there, reading in the comfort of their office. I don't mind that I don't really know precisely when I'm communicating, and who precisely I'm communicating with. I don't really mind that I don't get the feedback of knowing how my words are being received. I don't really mind that I'm transmitting - broadcasting - and I don't know how far my words are travelling or where they're landing.

Of course I worry that the more I write, the more I expose myself as a fool. If I write enough, I'm sure to expose my sheer idiocy. I'm hardly considering my words precious and choosing them with extreme care, given the prolific nature of my writing. Those who've read vast amounts of what I've written have said how repetitive I am. Should I have expected any other result, given my approach?

So, the rather unsatisfying conclusion is that there is no conclusion. I find it useful to write regularly, in the interests of allowing my creativity, productivity and identity to have some room to breathe, given the restrictive nature of the bland corporate world in which I inhabit. I find it useful to maintain a digital identity, lest I become paranoid about anything less-than-perfect emerging in other areas: at least my humanity is contained all neatly in one place here, where I can keep an eye on those who come to poke around. I find it fascinating that anybody would bother to try to find me, and would bother to read about me, especially given the vast tracts of drivel that I've written, such as this one.

 

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Domestic Bliss

9 min read

This is a story about basic human needs...

Tiny kitten

For a very long time I've been complaining about how slowly life has been progressing. It has been a source of immense boredom, frustration, annoyance, irritation, loneliness, unhappiness, dissatisfaction, exasperation, exhaustion and a general waste of my limited mortal lifespan, to have to sit around waiting for the hands of the clock to move; for the grains of sand in the hourglass to fall one-by-one through the narrow opening, at an agonisingly slow rate.

I've viewed life's core problems as fourfold: work, money, love and home. I can survive without a job, but I'm on borrowed time - eventually my savings and credit will be exhausted and I'll become destitute. I can survive without money, provided some good Samaritan is kind enough to offer food and lodgings for free. I can survive without love, but without it life seems pointless and unpleasant; not worth living for. I can survive with quite primitive shelter, but it's immensely damaging for my sense of wellbeing and self-esteem to be sleeping rough in Kensington Palace Gardens, for example.

Getting a job is probably the easiest of all the problems to solve. I've always been very employable and I command a high rate of remuneration wherever I am. My skills can be put to good use almost anywhere, mercifully.

Getting money follows as a natural consequence of getting a job. So long as I'm well enough to work, money will quickly follow. Mercifully, money flows in at a rapid rate, which can relatively quickly replenish my depleted savings and enable me to spend money on other things which are very cash-hungry, such as housing.

Getting a nice house is a little bit trickier sometimes as I'm occasionally classified as "self employed" and expected to prove to an unreasonable degree that my earning potential is far in excess of my financial obligations. I've previously been asked to pay an entire year's rent in advance, which is particularly unreasonable. To tie-up an entire year's rent in a single lump-sum payment poses significant cashflow problem, even for a high earner, especially if there is furniture to purchase and other moving-related expenses. To furnish my house with just the basics has been expensive and exhausting, and my bedroom still lacks a wardrobe and a chest-of-drawers. There is a long way still to go with furnishing my house.

Getting love seems like the final hurdle. I have very low self-esteem if I'm not working, earning, able to spend money and living somewhere lovely. So many people will ask "what have [I] got to offer anybody?" and tell me that I should be single, but those people are wrong. Sure, it might be a mistake to be in a bad relationship purely because of being too afraid of being alone, but it's so often those who have been happily married for years, who have forgotten how truly awful it is to be lonely, who offer the unsolicited advice that being single must be brilliant fun. It's not. I hate dating.

There are two important things I need to write about.

Firstly, I can settle for temporary relationships of convenience and turn a blind eye to red flags. I can make things work with a person who ultimately I can see I have no long-term future with. However, I never take my eyes off the prize. I know when I meet somebody very special - an incredibly rare event - and I know the difference between love, lust, temporary infatuation, and comfortable relationships which are only marginally better than being single. I'm quite capable of having a lovely time with somebody - something casual - but I have always maintained the hope of meeting somebody I'm really well matched with, who hopefully I can have a much more serious, loving relationship with. I have only been in love twice in my life, with a third time which was very promising but was never able to come to fruition - we'll never know what might have been. I use the word "love" very carefully and sparingly. When I say "I love you" or suchlike, a lot of thought has gone into what I'm saying, and there are deep feelings behind those words; those words are not said cheaply or easily, without a great deal of thought and scrutiny of my emotions.

Secondly, breakups do cause me a lot of distress, but I am not the kind of person who's unable to handle a breakup without it threatening my safety. Indeed, I very actively avoid the situation where I feel as though my world would be destroyed, leaving me suicidal, if I lost the love of my life. It's extremely unwise to over-invest in something so fragile as a human relationship, even if it appears to be fully reciprocated. I've been through divorce, so I know that even the most solemn of vows and binding of legal contracts, with the lengthy preceding relationship, is not enough to give any guarantees of security. I don't like unpleasant sudden surprises which will cause my life quality to be massively adversely affected, hence why I was so shaken by the events of last week, but even somebody who I'm totally in love with is not duty-bound to stay with me, for fear of me committing suicide. I would never say "if you leave me I'll kill myself" or commit suicide in direct response to a breakup.

Last week, my job was going incredibly well, my finances were in great shape, my house was looking amazing and my romantic relationship was awesome. I had a long weekend planned, which was going to begin with getting a kitten, and be spent in a state of domestic bliss, with the girl of my dreams, in an amazing home, loads of money in the bank, brilliant job and with a cute little fur baby scampering around.

Then, things looked like they were going to get ruined.

It's not that I was going to lose the relationship which was the sole reason why I went from on-top-of-the-world to suicidally depressed, but that the accompanying awfulness was too much to bear, as a sudden shock. Of course, I wouldn't have lost my money, my house or my job, but the approaching weekend - which I had been looking forward to so much - had a completely different complexion, as a suddenly single man.

What actually happened was that my girlfriend and I drove to pick up my little kitten, full of excitement and anticipation, drove the delightful little furball back to my amazing house, had delicious wine and Chinese takeaway and spend an amazing evening with my playful affectionate new pet. We woke up with a purring fur baby in bed with us. We spent the weekend on the sofa, eating delectable food, sharing our passion for similar cultural entertainment, and making a fuss over the cute little kitten... the most perfect weekend imaginable.

The difference between what actually happened and what could have happened might not seem great enough to have prompted the decision to not get a kitten and to hang myself, but we must be aware that it has been a very long hard journey from sleeping in a bush in Kensington Palace Gardens - utterly destitute - to get to this point.

Breakups have caused me a great deal of trauma in the past, with my divorce being the most extreme example, which tore through my life destroying nearly everything, myself included. However, I know what love is and I know what kind of life I want. I know the core elements that will make my life pleasant, liveable, sustainable and full of joy. I'm no fool: I know what I've got to do, and I've been patiently rebuilding my life, choosing very carefully.

As I write this, I have my little kitten peacefully napping on my chest, as I'm lying on my chaise-longue in a parquet-floored period home, with huge high ceilings and massive bay windows. I've had a great day at work and I've earned a lot of money. I have a beautiful girlfriend who I think is amazing, who will be coming to see me later. My life is exceptionally awesome.

How will I react if the relationship ends? Who can say? What I can say with certainty though, is that I've dealt with exceptional adversity in my life and survived, and of course I am incredibly unlikely to hurt myself while I still have the energy to keep fighting and patiently battling to achieve a decent quality of life.

Given some medical emergencies which have nearly claimed my life, and becoming totally destroyed by my divorce, perhaps I should be happy to live in a dumpster, in rags, with no love at all; perhaps I should just be happy that I'm not dead. No. I'm not content to merely be alive. I want it all: love, money, job and house... and a little kitten.

I hope that things work out with my girlfriend and I. I think she's amazing and I think we're really well matched, but who knows how things are going to pan out in future. Of course, I hope that she's "the one" but it's early days. If things don't work out, that's life - I still get to keep my great job, my great house and I still have the love of my little kitten.

This might sound quite different from how I sounded last week, but you have to understand the massive disappointment that I was facing. I would be disappointed if things didn't pan out with my girlfriend, but it doesn't have to be so devastating and shocking and sudden. Life is usually a little more stable and predictable.

Anyway, I had a great weekend of domestic bliss.

 

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Kitten Food or Rope?

8 min read

This is a story about broken dreams...

Cat things

Here on the former site of Mount Cardboard are some of the various kitten-wrangling devices which I've purchased this week. I had been planning on collecting my gorgeous little bengal kitten tomorrow... perhaps at lunchtime. I've been wanting to get another cat for years and years. I've missed having a house and a cat. I've missed normal domestic life.

The only thing I'm missing is kitten food.

I need to go to the supermarket to buy kitten food.

In the small hours of this morning I decided I was going to buy rope instead.

Stairs

Here's where I was going to tie the rope. I checked the height - there's enough.

Whether I bought kitten food or rope hinged on whether my life was "ruined" or not.

I've been through some ridiculously rough patches of my life. I've solved some ludicrously hard problems. I've overcome some incredible obstacles. How on earth could my life be "ruined" when there are so many good things which have been happening lately? How can my life be "ruined" when I've been talking so positively and with such excitement about the future? How can my life be "ruined" when I've gone to such extreme lengths to get myself into a secure position, financially, in the esteem of my work colleagues and in terms of settling in a great house in a great city?

Water bowl

I was so excited about getting a little bengal kitten and I knew that they love to play with water, so I bought this ridiculously expensive water fountain thing. I enjoyed assembling it. I took great pleasure from having such a nice thing for my kitten, hopefully making her life a little better. I want my cat's life to be as happy as it can possibly be.

I cannot have a kitten and kill myself. If I get a kitten, I'm staying alive to look after the cat; I'll be staying alive for my pet.

In the small hours of the morning, I decided I wasn't going to get the kitten anymore. I was going to buy rope, not kitten food.

How can this be? How can I be so unstable, when I seem to settled and secure?

To get to this point, where I was in an exclusive relationship with a girl who I'm absolutely crazy about, in a beautiful house, doing a job which I'm really good at, working on a flagship project for a massive organisation, with plenty of money flowing in... to get here was really f**king hard.

I cannot over-emphasise how hard it was to get to this point. I cannot stress enough just how difficult it has been to put all the pieces of a brand new life together. I cannot be excessively hyperbolic when I say that the journey to this point has exhausted every ounce of cunning, patience, perseverance and various other things, that I possess. I'm spent.

When I should have been thinking about buying kitten food, I switched to thinking about buying rope.

My life could collapse like falling dominoes. The plan to go and collect my kitten with the girl of my dreams, and bring the kitten home to the house of my dreams, all paid for with the job of my dreams... it would collapse so easily. The relationship has been damaged by events outside of my control, which threatens to ruin what had been an absolutely amazing thing up until last night. Losing the relationship means I can no longer keep myself safe, so I would have to hospitalise myself, which in turn jeopardises my job, which in turn jeopardises my house... and everything crumbles to dust.

I'm not being melodramatic. "The world's longest suicide note" exists because my life has been in danger for so long. I thought I was getting to a safe, secure, stable, sustainable place, but I suddenly realised that I had used up all my emotional reserves and I had no capacity to absorb a catastrophic event, such as losing this girl I'm crazy about. Yes, I'm scarily over-invested. Yes, it's dumb to make myself so vulnerable to events beyond my control, but I had allowed myself to believe I was going to get everything I want.

Then, suddenly, I was going to lose everything.

Of course, to you, the outside observer, you can't imagine losing everything but I really can because I've had to rebuild my life from scratch. Like, I've had to start from zero, zilch, zip, nada. I literally don't have any salt in my house, for example - I haven't run out... it's just one of a million items that I haven't yet replaced, because I had to start my life all over again, from nothing.

I know how it goes. I know how one thing leads to another. I know how a health problem - for example - can snowball into a catastrophe that destroys an entire life.

That's why I was going to buy rope, not kitten food.

I'm not prepared to lose everything again, and unfortunately I didn't feel like I had the reserves to be able to deal with a major setback. I really f**king like this girl, and it's unfair that the relationship got messed up by some outside actors. It was completely ridiculously crazily awful that this s**t got rained down on my head, just as my life was starting to come together.

It might seem crazy to throw away so much because of losing one "small" part - something which could be replaced - but I think you're failing to understand how vulnerable it's made me, working so hard for so long, in order to restore myself to health, wealth, love and prosperity. I've had enough of endlessly battling and struggling and striving. Time for the rope.

I'm not going to buy the rope. I'm never going to buy the rope. I know that it'll be incredibly hard if the relationship which was totally amazing is irreparably damaged, and I'm lonely and single, and my beautiful bengal kitten is almost a reminder of what might have been but I know that if I collect the kitten tomorrow, I'm going to look after her for the rest of her life. Yes, it'll f**king suck that a couple of dicks maliciously f**ked up my relationship, but I'll have to take things philosophically: if my relationship was so fragile that it couldn't withstand those malicious dicks, then how long could it have lasted anyway? Yes, I genuinely believe I'll never find another girl who's as perfect as this one, but then that's a lot of unhelpful pressure, isn't it? Better to try to get my feelings back under control and stop getting carried away.

You can forgive me getting carried away, can't you?

Literally the last thing I had to buy to make my life complete was some kitten food (oh, and maybe some salt) and then my life was ready to welcome a little kitten into it. All the pieces of the puzzle were finally falling into place. My life was seriously awesome, and getting more and more awesome all the time.

Then how on earth could I have seriously contemplated hanging myself in my hallway then?

I might look tough, I might have survived against incredible odds and I might have achieved unbelievable things, but it all takes its toll. I didn't even realise how close to the wind I've been sailing until I burst into tears in the office car park, despite the fact that I was planning on buying rope, not kitten food after work.

I know what I'm like. I know how calmly I would have just gone about the business of hanging myself. I know that I wouldn't have hesitated for a second.

I'm sick and tired of working so hard, and having my life ruined by things which are beyond my control. I'm sick and tired of getting so close, only to have some major shit which didn't need to happen - shouldn't have happened - spoil everything.

Perhaps it's ludicrously frightening to think that I would have gone and bought rope - instead of kitten food - and hanged myself, seemingly over something relatively inconsequential and solvable, versus almost every other major problem I've overcome in my life.

Does this mean I'm dangerously unstable; at risk of suicide all the time? No.

I'm under incredible pressure at work. Dating has been exhausting. Moving house and furnishing the place has been excessively demanding. There's been a perfect storm in my life, and yet I came so close to having everything work out, that it was an intolerable cruelty to have a malicious vindictive act perpetrated against me, causing so much damage. But, hey, s**t happens.

I need to go buy kitten food and other things now. You probably shouldn't worry about me. I'd be dead by now and I'd never have warned anybody if I was going to do it. You definitely won't get any warning if I'm going to kill myself, but you should be reassured that the plan is to get the kitten at lunchtime tomorrow, and then I'm damn well staying alive for that cat's whole life.

 

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Home Improvements

4 min read

This is a story about nurturing...

Houseplants

My lounge is a place of contrast. I hate the style of the fireplace, but I love having a log fire. I love the parquet floor but it's completely different from the parquet in the rest of the house. The room is cold, but I wanted this room to be cosy - I spend a lot of time under a blanket, when the fire's not lit. My big sofas are super comfy, but I find all my furniture a little bland and generic; functional and practical. I hate the curtains: they're revolting and need replacing, but I do like to close the curtains and feel like I have good privacy.

Getting some houseplants has transformed how I feel about my lounge. Having some greenery really makes me feel many times happier about this particular room of my house.

The shelves were looking a little bare, as I lost a lot of my books during my divorce and many subsequent house moves. The weight of books that I was lugging around didn't seem to be worth it after I had moved for the millionth time, so the only books I have on my shelves are ones I've recently bought and read, or been lent.

I feel like it's a bit of a crazy idea to start accumulating more and more material possessions, including bulky items like furniture, and delicate things like houseplants, which can't be simply thrown into a box if I needed to put my stuff into storage.

However, I needed to put down some roots. I needed to feel settled and at home somewhere, at long last.

Did I mention I'm getting a kitten?

I've had enough of being young, free and single. I want to be comfortable and content. I want to be settled and secure.

This doesn't mean that I'm in some desperate hurry to find the woman of my dreams, marry her and start a family. I'm just enjoying simple domestic pleasures. I'm enjoying ordinary life. I like loading and unloading the dishwasher. I like doing my laundry. I like buying houseplants and other things to make my house look nice. I like mowing the lawn. I get plenty of novelty and pleasure from pottering around the house. That's not to say that I don't very much enjoy going on lovely dates, eating in amazing restaurants and watching arty movies, but I derive an unusual amount of satisfaction from making my house into a home.

It seems like I'm doing everything all at once: moving to a new city, getting a house, settling in, getting a pet, going on dates. Perhaps it seems like I have an end-goal that I'm rushing towards, like so many people do: either rushing towards having children, rushing towards their retirement and death, or both. I'm pretty content to have things settle down for a while. I really want to savour the next few years - I'm hoping that I can keep things steady and routine, enjoying the pleasure of foreign holidays, mini-breaks and fine dining. It might seem like I'm constantly yearning and striving, but as my quality of life improves, the pace at which I live my life is calming down.

Entering into an exclusive relationship might seem like I'm desperate to move my love-life forwards, but it felt like a very natural part of winding down from my rather frenetic period of activity, and was something I was overjoyed about given how crazy I've been about one particular special somebody.

All the things I'm really pleased about sound really ordinary and mundane, in a way: a slowly developing relationship, a steady working routine, minor home improvements. Getting a kitten sounds exciting, which it is, but I want the kitten to feel settled at home with me, and to become part of my day-to-day existence. I eagerly anticipate feeding the cat and watering the plants, as well as cooking ordinary meals for the object of my affections when she comes to visit; watching movies on TV, curled up on the sofa with the cat.

Have I lost my adventurous side? Of course not. I had a rough time when I lived a chaotic adrenaline-filled life without any structure or routine. I'm managing to gradually restore myself to sustainable health, wealth and prosperity. I'm bound to start doing lots of really exciting things - it's in my nature - but I'm going to be smart and keep my love life, my work life and my home life settled, secure, scheduled and sensible.

Future planned purchase: a watering can and some plant food. That pretty much sums up my attitude to life at the moment.

 

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I'm Impatient

4 min read

This is a story about being in a hurry...

Wrigglebottom

Wanting a girlfriend, a kitten and a house could hardly be said to be whimsical decisions that have I suddenly made with little thought put into them. I've wanted a girlfriend, a cat and a house for my whole adult life, and probably a lot of my adolescence too. My wants and needs are pretty basic; fundamental.

The amount of elapsed time it's taken me to get a house, furnish it, start dating, meet some prospective love interests and find a kitten, has not taken me very long at all... by most normal people's standards. According to my perceptions, time has been almost at a standstill: like watching a 3 hour long movie in ultra slow-motion, or perhaps having each of the 24 frames per second shown by a slide projector, one every minute. The last three months of my life have lasted 72 months, according to my warped perception of time.

I by no means want to make a hurried decision about important things such as embarking upon a serious relationship, but equally I am not a person who wishes to spend a vast amount of time, effort and money, eternally dating and never thinking about making a more earnest commitment.

My life feels quite incomplete without a feline friend. I find it improves my life immeasurably to have a furry face to greet me when I come home, and I never seem to get bored of playing with cats, and stroking them when they're in the mood for human company - the sensation of a cat's fur is instantly calming, soothing and stress relieving.

UK house prices are insanely overvalued, so I must temporarily console myself with a house owned by a bank - with a mortgage - or beholden to some other form of landlord who gets rich at my expense. However, at least I have some say over how I furnish and decorate my home, and I have the right to reasonably refuse entrance to anybody I want and feel safe behind my front door.

I might seem like a very impatient person, but you have to understand that I thought I had my life sorted at a surprisingly young age, but there were bumps in the road and I'm finding myself starting over - clean slate - in a new city and without much to show for all the struggle and effort I put in up until now. That's why I'm so impatient: I very much know what I want and I know how to get it, because I already got what I wanted once already.

I have to wait a while to pick up my kitten because bengal breeders are pretty strict about when people are allowed to have them. The waiting is agonising. I have loads of photos and I get to go back for visits, but I hate waiting. I want to start bonding with my kitten right away.

I have my future life pictured very clearly and I can easily see the steps of how to get where I want to be. I never thought "I wish I didn't get a kitten" or "I wish I didn't buy a house" previously. I'm usually pretty good at knowing what's going to make me feel like a happy, fulfilled, contented person. I'm usually pretty good at knowing what's missing from my life.

It takes time to get everything we want and need, and the waiting is horrible, but I suppose I'll get there in the end.

 

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The Demise of The Floordrobe

2 min read

This is a story about domestication...

Messy bedroom

I'm starting to win the battle against having stuff spread all over the floor in every room of my house. I'm starting to hide things away. I've even managed to build a wardrobe and chest-of-drawers - with some assistance - but those are for guests. I'll get some furniture for my bedroom after I next get paid... I'm trying to pace myself a little, financially.

Coming home to a tidy house is great. I'm finding it easier to stay on top of things.

It's a big change from only a month or so ago, when I felt like I was getting swamped - my todo list was growing faster than I could possibly cope with, so it was impossible to deal with things immediately, because I was already so overwhelmed.

I have a list of fairly boring purchases to make, such as home insurance and car breakdown cover. I'm also going to be getting identical furniture to what's in my guest bedroom, for my own bedroom, so there's nothing particularly exciting about that purchase.

What is very nice is that I'm enjoying a lot of the purchases I made in a short space of time. I have some great new clothes to choose from. There are some little touches to my home which are making me feel really happy that I went through the stress and the effort, and risked a huge amount of money, hoping that I'll somehow be able to remain stable and maintain my healthy good routines.

It feels like slow progress to me, but I guess for most people they'd never try to do so much all at once. I'm really pleased that I'm managing to improve so many areas of my life all at once.

Not living out of suitcases anymore is a brilliant improvement to my life.

 

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Summer's Here

4 min read

This is a story about unseasonably good weather...

Sun tan lotion

While my colleagues have been enjoying Easter holidays, it's been 4 months since I took some time off work. Having the long 4-day Easter weekend was very pleasant, and there are two more long weekends in May. The Easter bank holiday weekend was particularly nice because it was sunny and warm.

A friend asked if I'd like to join him and his family for a picnic in the park, which I thought was madness, given that we're still in April and the nights can be decidedly cold. However, it was very pleasantly warm, even as the sun started to go down.

During the daytime over the Easter weekend, it felt most summery indeed. My skin is pretty tolerant of the UK sun, so I didn't really need sun tan lotion, but I was able to wear flip-flops and sunglasses, with short sleeves, and it felt like summer.

Summer is my favourite time of year.

There are a number of juggling balls I've got midair at the moment. Work, house, relationships, friendships, money, car, bills and admin... the usual crap that almost everybody has to worry about. Somehow, I'm managing to keep all the plates spinning reasonably well at the moment, which bodes very well for having a good summer.

Last year, a catastrophic chain of events screwed up my job, my relationships, some friendships, and put my whole situation - regarding housing and finances - into jeopardy. I got very sick and I was worried I was going to lose everything: my life is fragile.

This year, my approach has been exactly the same: I'm working hard on an important IT project, I have a place to live which I like, dating is going well, I'm starting to make friends, my finances are in good shape - things are looking extremely promising, but I know how quickly everything can crumble.

Last year, I ended up snatching a couple of days away with a good friend - a boy's trip away - which was amazing, but my life had been destabilised and my future was uncertain. By the time the summer arrived, I didn't feel in a position to enjoy it at all, and in fact I hardly saw the sunshine at all. When a new job came along, I took it immediately and worked all summer, including the day of my birthday.

Although I have had a very good run of luck, including a fantastic holiday over the Christmas and New Year period, I feel like I would like to celebrate my achievements and hard work by going away on holiday for my birthday. It's a little extravagant and it's an avoidable expense, but I feel like it would be great to have a summer break, to recharge the batteries ready for the long slog through to the autumn.

Perhaps it's not necessary to go abroad. A staycation can be just as great as going overseas. In fact, the UK is fantastic if you're lucky with the weather. Certainly, the Easter bank holiday weekend felt like being on holiday in a country with a much better climate than our own fair shores.

I guess it's something to aim for; something a little bit more exciting than domestic purchases of boring things for around the house. It feels like a way of psychologically declaring 2019 to be "a good year" which is important to me, given the number of "bad years" I've had. It hasn't been since 2016 that things were going smoothly in my life, when I went away for a lovely holiday to celebrate my birthday.

There's something really nice about having a holiday when things are going well - to be settled at home, in a relationship, work going well, financially secure, social interaction and other things which make life bearable - is important if you're going to be able to relax and enjoy yourself.

My life is becoming increasingly good, especially considering how much I was struggling with stress and anxiety very recently. I was overwhelmed and too exhausted, depressed and anxious to think about doing nice things, but now the landscape is starting to look very different.

 

Of course, I must say that I'm very fortunate to be in the position that I'm in, and I'm trying not to feel "entitled" to things, but it's no accident that I'm in the situation I'm in - there has been hard work, struggle and suffering to endure, so I don't feel too guilty about planning a nice holiday for myself, to celebrate my birthday in July.

 

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