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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.

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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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Mount Cardboard

6 min read

This is a story about packaging...

Cardboard pile

My house has high ceilings but I've still managed to reach the ceiling with my mountain of cardboard packaging, mostly from all the Ikea furniture I've bought. Arguably, I'm getting by with the bare minimum amount of furniture. What's the minimum amount of furniture that you could have, and lead a fairly normal life?

I lived out of suitcases and holdalls for a long time, so it seems reasonable to want a wardrobe - for hanging garments - and a chest of drawers for my other clothes. I'm sick of rummaging in bags to find the clothes I want.

I have a guest bed. It might seem like a real luxury to have a guest bedroom at all, but what was the point of working so hard for so long, if I'm not able to accomodate guests in my own home? Sure, I could rent a room in a shared house, share a kitchen, share a bathroom... but I spent enough years putting up with other people's disgustingness and inconsiderate behaviour. I think I'm entitled to a place of my own, with some space for friends and my sister to come and stay with me.

I have two sofas and a coffee table. I could probably get along alright with just one sofa but at some point I was going to want a matching pair and there's no guarantee that Ikea would have kept manufacturing the model I bought, so it made sense to buy the second sofa. Also, it does mean I can seat guests without us all having to be cramped onto the one sofa. I don't think it seems particularly profligate to own two sofas.

I managed to live for about 18 months without a microwave, iron, vacuum cleaner and various other domestic items, but it is rather tiresome not having these household basics. Yes, I did manage to survive without those things, but I could hardly be accused of being a spendthrift for purchasing such mundane objects.

In amongst the packaging pile of Mount Cardboard are some large lumps of polystyrene, which protected my washer/dryer during delivery. I'll accept that the dishwasher - which I did not purchase - is a luxury item that I could easily live without, but I refuse to wash my clothes by hand using a washboard and mangle. Using the dryer is horrendously energy inefficient and I have been good at taking advantage of nice weather to hang my washing out to dry, but sometimes it's incredibly nice to fill the machine with dirty laundry, push a button, and then have dry clothes ready to wear some hours later - requiring virtually zero effort.

The sum total amount of money I've spent vastly exceeds what I expected, even though I have bought bottom-of-the-range items most of the time. One must remember that I was starting my life afresh - a clean slate - with virtually no possessions, and the innumerable items which you use in normal daily life shouldn't be underestimated.

I bought items which could be seen as serving a purely decorative purchase, like lamps for my lounge and bedrooms, and shelves for the bathroom. I bought a bath mat and some pillows. I bought a pair of curtains. I bought some little organiser boxes. I even bought a couple of outdoor chairs to sit in the sun and read my book, in the privacy of my own garden. My life would function without these things, or I could make do with what I've got, but there's an intangible value to having a house with some finishing touches which make it feel homely; inviting.

If things should go horribly wrong somehow, with the benefit of hindsight some might criticise me for having set up my home relatively quickly - in under two months - instead of being much more cautious about the rate I have been spending money. I would counteract that argument by saying that this lovely home is my reward for having struggled through the years in shared houses, hostels, sleeping rough, months in hospital and generally unsettled existence which led me to the point of having no furniture, and very little else which is necessary to make a house a home.

It pleases me when I open a cupboard to find that I had the foresight to buy tea and coffee for the benefit of any visitors, because I do not drink tea or coffee myself. It pleases me when I'm able to offer a guest a hot beverage of their choice, with milk and/or sugar too. It might sound laughable, the idea of living a life where I simply wasn't in a position to have friends or my sister stop and visit, but that's what my life has been like - we quickly take our lives for granted and get used to our surroundings.

It will be a relief to take Mount Cardboard to my nearest recycling centre. It will be great to reclaim that space and not have the ugly eyesore, but I do have a final wave of Ikea furniture, which I have delayed for now because I have the bare minimum to be able to comfortably accomodate one guest or a couple. At some point, I would like to be able to have the space to have visitors and their kids too, given that most of my friends have children, and I have a young niece.

To say that having a great big house that's empty most of the time is hugely wasteful is a valid criticism, but this is my reward for working hard and making good sensible choices. This is how I'm making sense of the world, because I was struggling to see the point of being alive, if I was not seeing any benefit from my efforts.

I guess for most ordinary people, they get a "treat" occasionally - they have to spend their meagre income little by little - but I've gotten an entire furnished house suddenly overnight, but that's not really a fair comparison. I assure you that when you have no bed to sleep on at all, getting a bed seems like a necessity, not a treat.

I'm beginning to live very well, and I am grateful; I am happy. I am beginning to feel contented and settled.

 

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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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Burn Rate

11 min read

This is a story about buyer's remorse...

Ikea bed

A large part of my day was spent buying things of a very boring domestic nature. I bought curtains. I bought a vacuum cleaner. I bought an iron, ironing board and washing airer. I bought some plastic bins which organise my recycling into plastics, paper & cardboard and glass.

I got a bit carried away and started buying things which I have no urgent need for. I bought a coffee table. I bought a couple of lamps. I even bought two deckchairs for the garden, because it's been a beautifully sunny day and I thought I should be enjoying the brief period of nice weather in the UK, instead of being indoors.

I bought extra glasses, plates, cutlery and other little things, like nice wooden coat-hangers and some tiny shelves to put my toiletries and things on in my bathroom. I bought a new toilet roll holder, because the suction pad on the old one seemed to have failed completely.

I bought pillows and bed linen.

Who knows how much I spent.

While I was in Ikea I was looking at a sofa-bed which cost £140, which sounded very reasonable to me. I am not a price sensitive person. Whether something sounds "expensive" to me has been shaped by the privileged wealthy existence I've led. More than £20 on a bottle of wine is "expensive" from a wine merchant, but does not seem expensive in a restaurant. My purchases are generally categorised as either approximately £1,000, less than £500, approximately £100, or less than £50.

When buying something for around £1,000 I simply ask myself "is this a valuable thing?". For example, my laptop cost me £1,400, but I bought it without hesitation because I use it every single day and it's a tool of my trade - why would I even think twice about buying the very best available?

When buying something for under £500, I think much more carefully. Generally at this price point I make a lot more buying errors. I bought a £200 vacuum cleaner today, simply because it was a good brand. I have no need for a good vacuum cleaner - I only hoover once a month and I live alone so my house doesn't get very messy - so I could easily have managed with a £60 hoover, but my wonky thinking says "why worry about the £140 price difference? Just get the Dyson".

When buying products for circa £100, I don't make a lot of buying errors. My coffee table cost £90 and it's definitely worth £90 to me. To spend time trying to find a cheaper coffee table I like just as much would have been a waste of time. My curtains cost £90 and they're perfectly good curtains. In fact, the curtains block out the light really well and it was a really simple purchase - they were the right size and I didn't even check the price - I knew that they'd cost somewhere between £50 and £150. Perhaps if I'd got to the checkout and they turned out to be £200 I'd have felt like I made a mistake and should have thought about the purchase more carefully, but at £90 I feel like I'm much happier that I have curtains in one of my guest bedrooms, rather than no curtains - the value is hard to measure, but I'm definitely getting more than £90 worth of value out of the curtains.

Most of my purchases are less than £50, obviously. There are subtle gradations not worth exploring - for example, if I was charged £6 for a takeaway coffee I would think "damn that was expensive I won't go there again" but I wouldn't worry about it too much, but if the coffee was £4.50 then I wouldn't care. Similarly if I bought a sandwich and it cost £4.50 then I would pay the money and not worry about it, but if it was £6 then I'd be thinking "damn that's an expensive sandwich". To think about my price insensitivity at this level is too much detail to write about in the scope of this essay.

So, with the sub-£50 purchases, I spend more time thinking about things than the purchases which are circa £100. If I'm choosing a really nice bottle of wine, I'll agonise over the choices and probably buy a bottle costing no more than £25. Similarly, if I see some bed linen that I like but it costs more than £50 then I'll see it as overpriced and gravitate towards items which are priced less than £50. I bought a set of plates and bowls for £25. I bought a set of cutlery for £25. Comparable items could probably be bought for £10 less - saving me £20 overall - but I still feel like I got value for money. When I was unpacking all the knives, forks, spoons, etc. then I was thinking how much of a difference it's going to make to my life, to have an adequate amount of stuff to fill my dishwasher without leaving myself with nothing to eat with. Every purchase I made today under £50 felt like very good value for money, including an iron which will get very little use. Why do I need a fancy iron and a fancy ironing board, when I do so little ironing? It simply seemed like good value for money that I was able to buy high quality items for under £50.

Cumulatively, I've burned through a ridiculous amount of cash getting myself set up in my new house.

Most people, when they move into an unfurnished home and they don't have any kitchenware or other things like that, will buy things little by little. Most people will spend a lot of time choosing every single thing they have in their house. I'm not like that.

Of course, I'm particular about what I buy. I'm fussy about things. I'm house-proud and I like to think I have good taste. I very much wanted to share photos of all the little things which are slowly turning my house into a lovely home, but that will have to wait for another day - I don't want to spoil the surprise.

The catalyst for my money-spending and nest-making is that I have two beloved friends coming to visit soon, and I'm a house-proud person. I got this gorgeous house because I knew that it would immensely improve my self-esteem to be surrounded by some material representation of the hard work that's gone into getting myself this far in life. It might sound superficial and flawed, but it's very upsetting to be a smart person who's worked hard, but seemingly has little to show for it. If I'm showing off to my friends - that I have good taste - then I don't care. I want to look after them and make them comfortable in my home. I take enormous pleasure from being a host.

I can't stop to think about how much money I've spent getting my life rebuilt. I don't see the value in totalling up all the money I've burned. What use would it be? I could have scrimped and saved a little here and there, but I've not been profligate. Every single stupid domestic item brings me a little bit of joy, even if it's a washer/dryer, a vacuum cleaner or an iron... all these nice things cumulatively give me a nice life, which seems to correspond with the dedication to my career.

I rode my bike to meet a friend earlier in a local park for a picnic - a bike which is worth more than my car - and it brought me such a huge amount of pleasure to ride a bike which has been so heavily customised by me. The bike was one of the last purchases I was able to make before I became totally homeless, and yet I never regretted spending a significant sum of money on it. As I cycled home this evening, there was indescribable joy in the enjoyment of a bike which had spent a long time unused - when I was very sick - but has now been fixed up, and I'm able to use for the purpose I designed and built it for: urban life.

My colleague commented that my bike was "exactly what [he] expected [me] to turn up on" and that's completely the point. My home and my bike, for example, are an expression of my identity, and it's a deeply unhappy situation when we're forced - for example - to wear clothes which don't fit us and are not to our tastes. We should not underestimate the psychological damage that's done when we're forced into situations which clash with our identities.

My burn rate is obscene, but I'm aligning my identity with my surroundings, after a very long period where I was caused a great deal of distress by the economic limitations imposed upon me. Of course, I slept rough, slept in hostels and wore the cheapest clothes I could lay my hands on, in order to be alive today, but we shouldn't underestimate how intolerable that situation was at times. We shouldn't dismiss the self-esteem damage which drives people to commit suicide, as something which we can easily get over by simply suspending our identities and our need to choose our clothing, our home furnishings and decorations, which seem like such superficial things, but on closer examination, I can tell you for certain are vitally important.

I'm sorry if you're on a low income and what I have written seems disrespectful towards money, and indeed towards you and your struggles. Perhaps the money I "waste" is offensive to those who would gladly trade places with me, and would make much more considered decisions about spending... they would spend much more time bargain hunting, scrimping and saving.

I have a very unusual attitude towards money, perhaps because I can tell you precisely what exactly money is and where it comes from, because of my many years working in the banking industry, and of course because I've experienced long periods where I had more money than I needed... but please remember that I've also lived at the other extreme, where I was homeless and penniless. I do know how to live on a very tight budget, and indeed live on no money at all - I've run out of money plenty of times.

I shudder to think how much I've spent recently, but I know that it's been a long time since I made a foolish frivolous purchase. Sure, I have a lot of nice things but all my recent spending has been on very humdrum domestic items.

My approach to live is the same as it's ever been: high risk, high reward. As I slowly recover from years of illness and chaotic life, my surroundings do not look humble and ordinary. Why the hell should they? One slip-up and everything comes tumbling down, so perhaps I shouldn't be splashing the cash, but at the same time, why would I want to settle for mediocrity when I've worked so hard to achieve something special? It would be the most miserable thing, to end up with a life I could've easily had, without any hard work.

Of course, in conclusion, I must add that I know how much of a charmed existence I live. Lady luck has been kind to me. I hope that if you were to really get to know me - what I've been through and how hard I've worked - and you were to see the life I lead, then you'd say that I'm not entitled or spoiled; that my lifestyle is not excessively lavish, luxurious or recklessly profligate.

I've written three times as much as I intended, whilst sipping a glass of red wine from a bottle which cost somewhere between £5 and £35... but I can't tell you how much it cost because I'm pretty price insensitive in that price range.

 

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Toys

6 min read

This is a story about spending your paycheque...

Freebord

I think we have several distinct phases of our lives. We begin with no money and there are lots of toys we want, but we can't afford them. Then, we get a Saturday job or some other seasonal work - perhaps during school holidays - and we're able to buy some of the things we want, but these are pretty modest purchases. Then, we get a full-time job, but usually by this point we have to pay rent and bills, so we're still not particularly able to make lavish frivolous purchases. Then, we start a family and all the things we buy from that point onwards are for our kids, although perhaps we get some vicarious enjoyment out of buying toys for our children.

If you're lucky, you'll have a period of your life where your income significantly exceeds your expenditure, and you can buy whatever you want. During this period, you might buy the toys you could never have as a child, or you might buy the toys you were too young to be able to make use of, such as a sports car, a boat or a hang-glider.

If you're really lucky then you'll have a sustained period of wealth, where you can pursue expensive hobbies, which allows you to buy new toys on a regular basis. Every hobby tends to need lots of specialist equipment, and vast amounts of money can be sunk into having the latest and greatest stuff - becoming a "gear" collector.

If you're lucky enough to be wealthy, you've probably managed to save up for a deposit and bought a property. Owning a property can be a nightmare, because of the expense of maintenance, but for the wealthy, there's a huge amount of 'toys' to be bought for the house. No house is complete without being able to play music in every room from your iPhone. No house is complete without a massive flat-screen TV. No house is complete without a whole array of toys - even a vacuum cleaner is a desirable object now, marketed as something to get excited about buying, as opposed to something associated with domestic drudgery. The recent craze for cooking and baking TV shows has meant that our kitchens are filled with expensive toys, such as food mixers and pasta makers.

My house might not have a dining table, chest of drawers, wardrobe, coffee table or other essential items of furniture, such as a bed for visitors, but it does have mesh wifi in every room - a gadget that I could hardly resist, given that I work as a technology professional. Having a reliable wifi connection everywhere in my house is really handy, because it was annoying where I used to live previously, when my smartphone and laptop would drop the connection if I moved from the lounge to the bedroom, or vice-versa.

The toy pictured above - the thing that looks like a skateboard - has been gathering dust in storage for a long while, but as I'm now starting to feel more settled in my house and in this city, I'm beginning to start thinking about getting active. I got one of my bikes fixed, so I can cycle around more as the weather improves. The skateboard type thing allows a person to "snowboard on the street" - you can slide it and stop very easily, unlike a regular skateboard which has no brakes. I need to try to find some local hills with quiet roads, where I can take it out for a ride.

Toys give my life meaning. I'm not working for the sake of working. I'm not working for the sake of putting more zeroes on the end of my net worth. I'm not working for children. I'm not working even to obtain status symbols. I work because it gives me plenty of money to buy toys. Of course, I enjoy a very high standard of living - I eat out and I take nice holidays - but I also like being able to have nice things. I was rummaging through my boxes which I haven't unpacked, and I realised that I have some really cool stuff. I'm still attached to my stuff, even though it's just material possessions that I've lived without for years - I worked hard to buy those toys and I spent a lot of time picking them out, so I'm glad that I've still got a lot of my stuff.

As my health improves and I begin to feel happier and more settled in my new home and new city, I'm starting to think about how I might like to spend my leisure time. Of course, there's always excitement in spending money on new toys, but it's been great to rummage through my boxes and find things which I haven't had the time to play with, because life got really difficult for a long time.

It felt nice to buy new clothes last weekend, and I also feel glad that I didn't buy any toys or gadgets, because I always feel buyer's remorse for squandering my money on stuff, when I already own so many cool toys and gadgets. I might buy a coffee table and a hoover this weekend, which is plenty of retail therapy - it'll definitely scratch the itch.

I'm very spoiled, that I've been able to furnish my house with stuff I chose from Ikea, and it seems wrong to say that during a lot of that process I haven't enjoyed it - I've been overwhelmed with the stress of moving house and getting myself set up in a position where I can live an ordinary life. I sat and slept on the floor when I first moved in, because I didn't have a single item of furniture. My washing machine wasn't delivered on time, so I was running out of clean clothes. Stress can ruin things which are supposed to be fun. Now I'm through the worst of the stress, I am now beginning to appreciate how lucky I am.

When I attempt to make sense of life - why bother? - then it's easy to reach one of two conclusions: either we should have sex, take drugs and get drunk as much as possible, to maximise our pleasure in a hedonistic way, or we should spend our money on things which bring us joy, such has holidays and toys. I appreciate that children are the traditional route to giving our lives meaning and purpose, but it's selfish and unethical to bring children into this messed up world. Probably better to play with a few toys than to inflict the agony of existence onto a child who didn't need to be brought into this world.

I guess I'm just a child.

 

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Clean Slate

6 min read

This is a story about fresh starts...

Chalboard

To many people, the idea of starting their life again from scratch sounds appealing. We can become weighed down with clutter and running away from our old life to start a new one - a fresh start - is something which many people yearn to do, but never actually dare to follow through with.

I'm still in the process of starting my life anew, so I thought I should tell you about a few things you probably hadn't thought about.

Your wardrobe has things in it which you don't need very often, but are essential during difficult times. The best example I can think of is a black tie, which you will need if you have to go to a funeral. It might sound like a trivial item to obtain, especially given that ties are one of the few clothing items which comes in one size, but you have to consider that very few shops sell ties, and those that do might not sell a plain black one. It's pretty rare to reach your late thirties and not have bought a black tie, and that black tie will last you a lifetime, given that you're likely to only ever wear it to funerals.

On the subject of clothing etc, you are sure to own a washing airer, ironing board and iron. It's hard to go through adult life without gathering clothing items which have to be dried slowly rather than tumble-dried. There are lots of times when creased clothes are not socially appropriate, so you will own these laundry-related items.

Curtains. Assuming that you own furniture - which in and of itself is a huge amount of stuff to buy - the curtains that you own are the appropriate size for your windows. If you move house, your curtains are unlikely to be the right size. Curtains are surprisingly important, given that without them you will have no privacy, and light will come flooding into your bedroom at dawn. It doesn't matter how much stuff you own, you will probably have to buy new curtains - urgently - if you ever move house.

Vacuum cleaner. I've lived for a month without a vacuum cleaner. There's no particular urgency in getting one, but sooner or later it would be good if I could hoover my floors and carpets, given that it's getting pretty tedious sweeping up with a dustpan and brush, which is something else I had to buy. These things are very mundane and domestic, but eventually your house will get pretty grubby without the modern appliances we all take for granted.

Kitchenware. I have two saucepans, one frying pan, a few sharp knives, a measuring jug, some wooden stirring implements, a few other utensils, but otherwise I'd find it pretty hard to prepare a meal according to a recipe book, which is bound to call for sieving, grating, whisking, mashing and other such things, requiring some kind of kitchen equipment I don't currently own.

Lampshades. I bought myself a nice lamp for my lounge, but the lightbulbs in my house are otherwise uncovered - naked bulbs are pretty ugly things, along with their cheap plastic electrical fittings. It might sound like a stupid thing, but I don't feel very comfortable in my home without nice lampshades.

Lawnmower. I suppose I'm lucky to have a garden, after having spent so many years in central London apartments, but a garden brings extra responsibilities: I have to mow the lawn. Actually, I have to get rid of all the weeds and get the lawn in good shape, because I love having a healthy lawn, so I will at least need some weedkiller and a rake to begin with, but then I'll need a lawnmower. I forget that I have a garden now. I had grown to like gardening since getting a house in my mid-twenties, but I had forgotten all about the duties of keeping the garden maintained.

There are a mountain of things I'd need to buy if I wanted to do things myself and not pay somebody else to do them. If I want to wash my car I'll have to buy a hosepipe, bucket and sponge. If I want to wash my windows I'll have to buy a wiper-thing and maybe a ladder. If I want to shine my shoes, I'll have to buy shoe polish and brushes. If I want to repair my clothes, I'll have to buy a sewing kit. All of the many things you've got tucked away in drawers and cupboards - I've got none of those things.

Guests are coming to stay soon, so I need a duvet and pillows, plus spare bed linen and towels for my guests... plus the aforementioned curtains... oh and a bed!

This puts things into context: I have a sofa which I can sit on when I'm awake, and a bed to sleep in, but other than that my house is still unfurnished. My clothes are in bags or otherwise strewn across the bedroom floor. I eat in the lounge, sitting on the sofa. I have barely enough plates, glasses and cutlery to support my own needs, let alone the needs of guests. I have barely enough bed linen to keep my own bed smelling fresh, let alone having having a spare set for the guest bedroom. I'm kinda camping in my own home - getting by with a vastly reduced amount of posessions than most ordinary people.

I decided to move all my boxes of stuff up to the top floor of my house. The boxes contain all my stuff which survived the turbulent years leading up to me moving to this big house. Now, my house feels almost empty - in fact, it is almost empty, given that 5 rooms have nothing in at all. My house is ludicrously oversized for my needs, but I'm very excited about being able to have visitors with children come to stay, and there's plenty of space for everybody.

Of course it would be lunacy to re-clutter my life unnecessarily. I've learned to live without almost everything, so I've seen no need to go rushing to the shops and completely fill my house with every conceivable furniture item I could think of. I've also bought clever things, like modular sofas which can be reconfigured easily, so I can easily re-arrange my rooms to suit me once I'm more settled.

 

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