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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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Unprofessional

3 min read

This is a story about trash talking...

Post-it note

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

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

I deleted the message, but people saw it.

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

I'm mortified.

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

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

Ugh.

I was doing so well.

Except I wasn't.

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

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

I'm catastrophising.

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

 

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Emotionally Unstable

7 min read

This is a story about repeating patterns...

Quote

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Team Player

4 min read

This is a story about leadership...

Design

As well as productivity - how much an individual produces - there is another contribution to a team which is harder to value. We have all suffered the micromanagers who are an annoyance and a distraction, slowing us down and stopping us from doing our jobs, but there are also people who do provide some useful function in a team, beyond their basic labour.

There are some people who aren't particularly interested in the big picture, and are very happy to go in the same direction as anybody with a big mouth and a certain overconfidence, who seems to have a vague idea of what direction everyone should be going. There are some people who are happier, more secure and more motivated if they're in a team with individuals who appear confident and knowledgeable. There is a great deal of value in having some authority figures in a team, to turn to in times of uncertainty in doubt, provided those people provide reasonable answers and can be trusted to be correct most of the time.

We might assume that there would be a power struggle, if two people tried to lead a team, but clearly this is untrue, because most of us have many masters. In a family, there are two parents, plus any other busybodies who decide to assert themselves, believing they have a valid opinion on the matter of childrearing. In most office situations, there are usually several people who have some degree of authority over us, who provide us with our objectives and otherwise place demands on our time. Generally speaking, we muddle along, even when we receive conflicting instructions from our higher authorities. Further, leaders will co-operate to achieve their goals - this is much more common than constant conflict, especially in organisations, where an argumentative person is not welcome.

I wrote yesterday about self doubt I had about whether I was suffering from delusions of grandeur, and I considered only my productive contribution as a builder - a labourer - as evidence that I'm a useful member of the big project I'm working on. Having given the matter further thought, I decided that there is also a lot of value in the role I play as a knowledgeable authority on a vast amount of subject matter. Although again it's anecdotal evidence, because it would be an insult to my colleagues to actually gather the hard data, I do seem to notice a reasonable footfall at my desk, of colleagues who are seeking my opinion or assistance.

Why do I fret about this stuff?

I thought a lot about why I'm so obsessed with my contribution to a massive project, and the answer is fairly straightforward: it's vindication. After many years where I felt sick and useless, that my skills, experience and abilities had rotted and withered, and that I was incapable of maintaining sustained and stable steady reliable productivity, my self-esteem was destroyed and I was full of self-doubt.

need this big achievement. I need this feather in my cap. I need to prove to myself and the world that I can pull off an impressive piece of work and that I'm still highly capable, competent and employable; that I'm worth the money; that I have value.

Whether it was homelessness, financial problems or mental health problems, I have felt very close to ruin and destruction for many years, and I started to believe that I truly was useless, and that I deserved to be ejected from society, to end up trampled in the gutter; kicked, spat on and tossed in the trash.

Having worked very hard for a long time on an extremely complicated project, and played a valuable role, this potentially vindicates my belief that I'm still a competent, capable and valuable person to have as part of a team, delivering gigantic software systems for huge organisations. I needed this proof that I don't deserve to be thrown into the dustbin, like a piece of human trash. I needed some concrete proof that those who wrote me off and left me for dead were wrong to do that.

That's why I work so hard and that's why it's important to me to believe that I'm making an exceptional contribution.

I absolutely do not want to rob my colleagues of their share of the glory or deny the value of their contribution. I completely recognise that it's been a huge team effort, and that I'm just one tiny cog in a big complicated machine. However, I do need to feel like I did something pretty damn good, for a guy who nearly died 2 years ago.

 

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Cat Fancier

4 min read

This is a story about my fur baby...

Cone of shame

My job is incredibly intense at the moment and I'm at risk of becoming excessively obsessive, but when I see my cat's cute face greeting me when I get home from the office, I'm able to switch off and relax a little. There are things which are causing me a lot of stress at the moment, like an uncertain financial and housing situation, but it's all a little easier to bear in the company of my lovely cat.

I wondered whether I had made a big mistake, getting a very intelligent breed of cat, because her personality is so different to the moggy I had before. Repeatedly wetting the bed as well as being relentlessly hyperactive, I felt that I was getting far more of the downsides of pet ownership, with only a very limited amount of upsides: it seemed very rare that she wanted to sit and be stroked. I wondered whether I had taken on a bigger responsibility than I had expected - and been used to in the past with cats - with none of the rewards that I was used to from my previous cat.

She is very annoying.

However, I have gotten used to how annoying she is. Now I have begun to enjoy her character.

At least once a night, she will have a manic episode where she will decide that she's going to attack me. For a period of 15 minutes to an hour, she will attack my hands, arms, feet or indeed anything that she fancies, such as my legs, knees, or simply my torso. She will bite, scratch and kick me. She will jump on me and wind me. However, it's all rough play and she doesn't mean to hurt me, although she does draw blood. If I want her to stop, she does... but not for long.

Multiple times per day she will attack my houseplants and other fragile things, such as some tall lamps which have paper shades, now utterly destroyed. She does not attack these things when I'm not around. Not wanting to anthropomorphise, but she wants to provoke me: she annoys me for her own amusement. It's a game to her. It used to stress me out but now it's become kind of funny... since I've accepted that I can't have nice things anymore and I've given up being precious about my stuff.

She wants to be with my, wherever I am. It's very nice having a little shadow, following me around. She meows and I meow back. Sometimes she wanders off and then feels lonely, so she meows and then comes rushing to find me when she hears me. She's a very sociable animal.

Since she's been wearing her cone she's not been able to scratch behind her ears, which is something she gets me to do for her. She has an insatiable appetite for behind-the-ears scratching.

Once or twice a day she will have a period where she is desperate to be stroked, and she will force her head into my hand, whatever I'm doing. Typing becomes impossible. Resting comfortably becomes impossible. Sleep becomes impossible. If I sit or lie on my hands, she will burrow furiously in order to push her head repeatedly into my hand, urging me to stroke her. It's so adorable and impossible to ignore.

She has started to enjoy sitting on my lap, or otherwise lying peacefully in contact with me. She has started to have some calmer periods, which are of course blissful.

Stroking her is immensely stress relieving. She also seems to know when I'm unhappy, and she cheers me up a lot. I think she's responsible for helping me to avoid complete capitulation during some recent stressful events.

In short: I'm really pleased I got her and I'm so happy she's part of my life.

 

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Not a Good Look

9 min read

This is a story about receiving advice...

Pixelated

Just a little over a year ago I made a new friend via the Internet. We bonded over our mutual desire to kill ourselves and made what can only be described as a suicide pact. We are close, speaking on a more regular basis than I do with anybody else. I value their advice.

My friend had been advising me to find a therapist, given the apparent futility of my efforts to break the cycle and begin to live a more stable, happy and contented life. My childhood trauma, bitterness, resentment, insecurity and lack of self-esteem are all plainly on public display, every single day that I write. It must be frustrating for those who follow my story for any period of time, and who attempt to support me, to see me repeatedly struggling with similar themes, and apparently making no progress. There is a well-meaning desire to want to help me, or for me to help myself.

There aren't a great number of people who can offer me advice that I will listen to, given that most people haven't experienced the extreme events, which have left me almost dead, destitute, homeless; threatened to end my life so many times. I only tend to trust the advice of those who have suffered; those who are afflicted and who understand suffering. Most people think that yoga, kale, jogging and mindfulness are the cure-all solutions to any problems, because they have never experienced truly awful things, and they never will.

I should listen to my friends. I do listen to my friends.

Advice often comes as a shock to me. It might not be my immediate instinct to accept what people say without question, but I always mull things over at length. I'm always prepared to consider the possibility that I might be wrong, and more often than I care to admit, I do end up accepting that I was wrong about something.

My friend criticised my public aggressive rant, concerned that it was not a good look.

I agree.

However, I have always prided myself on not being a person who thinks only of superficial appearances. It would have been disingenuous of me to hide away a bunch of things that I was thinking and feeling. It wouldn't have been true to myself or my mission to expose myself - make myself vulnerable - to hide my thoughts and feelings, and instead to present a fake version of myself. That has never been my style.

A work colleague reads my blog quite regularly, and they even took the time to comment on my "aggressive rant" which further made me think that my friend has a point. Seen in the context of acting unprofessionally, I most certainly worried about my image, and how my behaviour was "not a good look". If I was making an idiot of myself on LinkedIn or in the office, then I would be mortified. I am very familiar with the pressure to wear the corporate mask and to pretend to be the consumate professional - the bland corporate drone - at all times. This blog is the complete antithesis of the relentless coercive pressure to present a fake image of bland obedient corporate unblemished perfection, and the antithesis of everything you'd ever say in the office, write on your CV or otherwise share with your colleagues.

If I was all about image then I wouldn't have started this blog at all, sharing the very most unflattering things about myself.

My friend has a point: my rants are most definitely read by a couple of colleagues at the organisation where I'm currently working, and what they've read very much undermines the image that I've worked hard to cultivate. They must think I'm some kind of monster; a dangerous unstable lunatic.

I found there was too much effort involved - too much paranoia - in maintaining the bland grey perfect unblemished corporate drone image, and worrying that the mask might slip. I found that it was making me unwell, the pressure to maintain the perfect image.

My friend's advice is sound, and I am definitely thinking that I've probably gone too far. I have spent the day thinking about whether to censor myself; to delete what I wrote. I have spent the day thinking about whether I was too harsh; unfair and excessively biased.

It's a little surreal: advice given from one member of a suicide pact to another. For me, being suicidal means that I'm beyond caring what people think about me; I have transcended dignity and accepted that I place a higher value on ending the suffering than my image. I agree with my friend about the "not a good look" thing, but when I am well and truly ready to die, I don't care how it looks or what people think about it; I don't care about a world which contains nothing but misery, anxiety, stress, depression and pain.

My friend is probably right, in that there's a slim chance - a negligible chance - that I could pull through this f**king nightmare and decide that I can extract some enjoyment out of life, and I would regret things that I've said; I would feel differently about my image, but it would be too late to take back my words. My friend is right, that for those who see themselves as likely to carry on living, they have to think about things like their image and their reputation. I've been writing this blog for years saying the same unflattering things about myself, and presenting myself in an unflattering light, and it's shocking how infrequently I feel as though I made a mistake in making myself look like a "complete psycho" (to use my friend's words).

In my experience, the people who have "Done [Me] Wrong" carry on their lives with clean consciences, without a care in the world about the damage they've done. Yes, my rants are "not a good look" but they are part of the psychological make-up of a person who was bullied every day from the age of 3 or 4 years old until about 16. Every. Single. Day.

Some powerless people, abused for many years, will snap and commit violent acts. Some powerless bullying victims will fantasise about getting revenge. What I do is I write honestly and candidly. Does it mean that I forgive and forget and live a happy and contented life? No. That was never the point.

Why should we forgive and forget? It's drummed into us that we'll be happier if we forgive and forget, but who's beating that into us? I call BS on the idea that we should forgive and forget. Why aren't the victims of bullying and abuse entitled to an apology, instead of being expected to suck it up? Why aren't the victims of bullying and abuse entitled to write and talk as much as they want about the years and years of suffering they endured at the hands of the bullies and the abusers?

Perhaps I might mature one day and see that I was foolish to hold onto so much bitterness and resentment, and to spend time and energy yelling into the great wide world, with my words never reaching the people who wronged me. It seems like incredible folly to expend so much effort, writing words which will never be read by the perpetrators of bullying and abuse, because they run away and put their fingers in their ears, determined to never feel a twinge of guilt for the trauma they inflicted. Why get so worked up and rub salt in the wound? Why not let the scars heal?

I'm undecided. While my life is still intolerable and I'm on the brink of bankruptcy and homelessness, plagued with suicidal thoughts, then I will continue to write about my suffering. I see no reason to ever stop writing about the awful things which cause me such great distress, while my life is in danger. Why would I ever shut up and pretend like everything is OK?

As you can tell, I'm conflicted. I value my friend's opinion, but I also have to live my life my way. It's me who has to figure out a way to get through the day. I am mulling over my friend's advice, and I think about all the people who spend a moment to share their thoughts with me.

Of course I feel out of order and that my behaviour is not how I would like it to be. Wouldn't we all want to be Mr Nice if we had the choice? Wouldn't we all want to be some Jesus-like figure who forgives everybody? Wouldn't we all want to be that one cool dude who lets everything wash over them with cool calm serene composure and dignity? Wouldn't we all want to wear a permanent smile, even when somebody is taking a dump on us?

I want to be Mr Nice but I don't feel able to be right now, because real life; because real danger; because real trauma, abuse, bullying, baggage, distress, anxiety, suffering and all the other things which plague me.

I wondered how many friends I'm going to have left if I make it through this f**king nightmare and reach a point where I have some financial, housing, social, relationship and career stability. Then I realised that the thought was a non-sequitur. If I don't make it through then I have no use for friends, because I'll be dead. My friends are the people who can understand the gravity of the situation. In that regard, I can't really understand why anybody would invest in a friendship with me, given that I make no secret of my relentless suicidal thoughts - I really don't hold out much hope that I'm going to pull through and reach the point where things improve.

In conclusion, I feel some regret and remorse that I might have spoken too harshly about people who undoubtedly wronged me - those are just facts - but who could perhaps be excused, forgiven and forgotten, without a public outburst displaying just how upsetting and distressing things have been, but also how much bitterness and resentment I was carrying. Not a good look, for sure. Not a dignified response. Not what Mr Nice would do.

I am not Mr Nice. I'm just some suicidal guy trying to get back on my feet.

 

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Oversharing

5 min read

This is a story about being laid bare...

Phone box

My Facebook friends are a mish-mash of former colleagues who have become friends, former colleagues, old friends, acquaintances, close friends, my accountant, random people who I friend requested, random people who friend requested me, and some people I've had business dealings with. In short, many of my Facebook friends are not friends at all, and some of them are quite powerful and influential, and it would be a bad idea to make a fool of myself in front of them.

Facebook is a place where I've let various crises play themselves out, with little to no filtering. It's been fairly apparent to anybody who's friends with me on Facebook that I've had a major life crisis, which has not been handled with elegance, dignity and poise. It's fairly apparent on Facebook that I've completely lost my mind, at times. It's been fairly apparent on Facebook that I've been through some dreadful adversity and horrible events.

There's a feature on Facebook which shows you "memories" of things that happened "on [the anniversary of] this day". This feature never fails to remind me of just how utterly insane I've been in the past, during various crises. There are moments from 2015 and 2017 which are particularly cringeworthy, although remarkably I was working during a lot of that time. I look back and I think "sheesh! My mental health was in a really bad state".

I keep worrying that my perceptions are all warped and that I'm actually just as mad as ever, but I'm unable to see it in myself. I keep worrying that I'm repeating the same old pattern - the same episodes of mental illness - and I'm not really recovering at all. I do have very good evidence, in the form of those Facebook memories, that my state of mind is completely different, and I'm much more sane, healthy, in-control and generally sorted out... but I worry that I've lost perspective and I'm unable to perceive my own madness correctly.

If I'm having a moment of sanity, I wonder if it's only temporary and I'm about to be plunged into insanity at any moment. Sure, I can spot some of the same problems: the propensity to do crazy things, spending massive amounts of money and zooming around the world in airplanes, plus the ever-present thoughts of suicide. I can see that I'm inflicted with the same mental illness I've had all my life - bipolar disorder - but I don't know whether it's going to become unmanageable, or whether I've got it back under control. I had my bipolar under control for the vast majority of my life, so it seems feasible that I'm managing my illness, like I always managed to do, but I do worry that life will get the better of me and I'll be unable to cope.

I regularly examine past behaviour, and although I understand what I was thinking at the time, I think differently today and I would act differently. I can't justify my past behaviour and I'm very embarrassed, full of regret and remorse, but I know that in the midst of a fully-blown mental health crisis, a person doesn't make the same well-informed, well-considered and carefully pre-planned correct choices. This is not to defend my past actions or excuse them... merely to explain them, although it pains me that it was the same me - physically speaking - who said or did things, it doesn't seem like it was me at all. I know things made sense to me at the time, and I can understand the illogical thinking which led to my behaviour, but I can also see the strange flaws, just as we might imagine a recovered paranoid schizophrenic might come to realise that the voices they heard were not real.

I live a strange existence, where I'm hoping to break out of the perpetual nightmare of recent years, and to re-enter civilised society. I commute to the office, I feed my cat, I hang out with my girlfriend, I go on holiday - my life seems very normal, but I live with the knowledge that things went very badly wrong during a series of dreadful crises, and I struggle to reconcile that with the ordinary, pedestrian, plodding, calm, normal, humdrum, workaday, boring, predictable, civilised and obedient lives lived by most people, and especially the people in my middle-class peer group; my colleagues etc. There is no way I can talk casually about the more lurid and colourful aspects of my past in the office, for example - these are things which are simply not talked about, because my sheltered colleagues would be afraid of who I am - or rather who I 'was' - if they really knew the stuff I've been through, even though they have spent an extraordinary amount of time in my company and they know who I am.

That 'was' aspect suggests I'm some kind of reformed man, which of course I am not. I'm the same person I've always been. My circumstances dictate everything, and life is very different when it's nonstop crisis. My circumstances have improved, so commensurately my life has improved, and my life looks very much like anybody else's, although some of my relatively past is very different.

I'm in danger of getting defensive, so I'm going to stop now. I've shared enough.

 

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Je Suis Fatty Gay

2 min read

This is a story about fatigue...

Unmade bed

I had planned on going out kitesurfing more than once, while I was on holiday in Mauritius. I had planned on spending some time in the sunshine today. I had planned on seeing my sister play roller derby.

In the end, I was too tired.

It's been a while since I was unable to get out of bed, but I think it's economic necessity and the opportunity to make hay while the sun shines, which means that I am just about able to force myself into an uncomfortable daily routine - working in an office 9 to 5 Monday to Friday - but the rest of the time I'm tired and I want to relax; to sleep.

My life is a bit boring, given that it consists of work, eating and sleeping, but it makes me more miserable, feeling duty-bound to do activities. I definitely need the rest, because my working days are demanding, and life's been very stressful in recent years, which has left me exhausted.

I'm writing this because I feel guilty about squandering some valuable quality time, but I feel so much better for having given myself permission to rest, instead of succumbing to a sense of duty.


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Loneliness

6 min read

This is a story about antisocial behaviour...

Tree in forest

What's the shortest journey between two points? If you know where you need to get to and you know the fastest route to get there, would you make that journey? What if the shortest path was also a very painful one?

A year ago I was living in a hotel close to the office. A year ago I was incredibly isolated - single, in a city where I had just one friend, estranged from family and living a pretty dysfunctional life except for my job.

Who cares... I was functional, wasn't I?

I certainly turned up in the office every day looking presentable and I did useful work, but I'm not sure I really was very functional. It's true that I was earning money, paying my bills and I was on a journey towards financial security. I was reliable; dependable; trusted. What else is there in life other than getting up in the morning, putting on some smart clothes and going to the office? What else is there in life other than earning money? I was certainly earning money. I was certainly working.

What do you suppose happens after a major event, like a near-death experience? What do you suppose happens after a major medical emergency which was life-or-death? What do you suppose happens after a lengthy hospitalisation?

Most people would like to imagine that there'd be plenty of time for rest and recuperation after a major illness that nearly killed a person, but I'm afraid the demands of life can't be paused. Unless you want to emerge from your near-death experience and be immediately hurled into bankruptcy, destitution and have life-changing black marks against your name which preclude you from ever renting a property, getting a car loan, getting a mortgage, getting any kind of credit agreement etc. etc. and indeed getting most jobs, which insist on credit checks and suchlike, then there's not a moment to spare, ever.

For sure, I'm a capitalist's wet dream in terms of how meekly I comply with capitalism's coercion and act in the way that's expected of me, selling my labour cheaply and otherwise allowing myself to be shafted by the system. Instead of doing what I absolutely need to do, which is to spend time getting better, instead I have thrown myself straight back into the workplace.

A close friend - my guardian angel - has similar mental health problems as me: depression and anxiety. She has been able to do voluntary work and quit jobs which were toxic for her mental health, and to engage with her local community. She's swallowed her pride and has accepted that she must live with her parents and spend her precious savings supporting herself, for the sake of her mental health.

For me, I've had to choose between the self-esteem destroying effects of living as somebody's charity case, or the toxic world of work. I decided that the latter option is marginally better, given that it at least offers a route towards freedom, although it's a very risky game.

Living under somebody else's roof takes the pressure off in terms of burning money on rent and bills, but there's an emotional toll for anyone who's been raised to be a considerate guest - there is considerable guilt about time spent sleeping and otherwise "treating the place like a hotel". There is a great deal of pressure to be seen to be doing whatever it is that your host thinks you should be doing. There is a great deal of pressure to please your host, which leaves remarkably little time and energy to rest and recuperate.

Working when you are too unwell to work is risky because you must present a corporate mask to your colleagues, pretending that everything is A-OK when really it's not at all. Work is the very last place on Earth that you should be, but you're in the office carrying on like you're fine and dandy. It's horrible to force yourself - day after day - into a situation and environment which is totally toxic to your mental health and is intolerable, but it's somehow possible to present a veneer of cool calm professionalism, such that your colleagues have no idea that you're on the brink of having a nervous breakdown at any moment. It's high risk, high reward - if you can wear the mask and pretend like everything's OK for long enough, your situation will improve, but it's incredibly draining and prevents you from becoming healthy and happy again, because it's so demanding.

One year later, I have my own roof over my head and a girlfriend. I still don't have any local friends to speak of, but I have ingratiated myself with my neighbours and my colleagues are sociable; one of my colleagues has even started to talk to me socially as a friend, outside the office, having found my blog.

I have the dignity and self-esteem that I wanted, in that I am paying my own way and not dependent on anybody, but it's been ridiculously exhausting and risky to take this path. So often I wonder if I should have cut my losses and given up, allowing myself to be screwed over by the system; destroyed by those who seek to exclude and marginalise vulnerable members of society.

I was struggling to find anything to watch which captivated my attention last night, so I spoke to a friend. That's unusual for me. I live a very isolated existence. I almost never speak to any of my friends on the phone, except for two very loyal friends, one of whom often phones me while I'm at the office. I must make fewer than one phone-call per week, on average.

Overall, my situation is improving, but it's pretty intolerable. I've chosen the fastest route from A to B, but it's an exceptionally intolerable and unpleasant journey, even though I know it's the most direct. I know that this suffering is only temporary and that I will reap some rewards at the end, if I can stick it out, but I do want to quit all the time.

Through this very difficult period while I've been blogging - the past 4 years - I've made some really awesome friends who are very loyal and who have gone to exceptional lengths to help me, including my guardian angel, who's visited me in hospital far too many times. Although my behaviour looks broadly the same, there are undeniable improvements to my situation. My bloody-minded bitter determination to succeed with exactly the same strategy which I've always employed, seems to be paying off, finally. It surprised and gladdened me that during a moment of loneliness I suddenly remembered that I had a whole heap of very dear friends who were available to chat to.

Weirdly, I don't feel lonely, even though I have spent the vast majority of the past 4 or 5 years enduring an incredible amount of social isolation.

 

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Hard to Count

8 min read

This is a story about beans...

Cray

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

Anyway, on an unrelated matter...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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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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