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I write every day about living with bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression. I've written and published more than 1.3 million words

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Useful Idiot

5 min read

This is a story about technocrats...

Desk

I wish I could tell you more about my day job, but I can't. I can't even tell you who my main client is, or generally what the project is that I'm working on. I mean, technically I could tell you the organisation and project, but then anybody searching for my name and that project or organisation would be brought right here, immediately, which wouldn't be helpful. I can't tell you any detail about my day, because it would probably breach code of conduct, and possibly some laws too, depending on what I told you.

Anyway.

I hate when people try to be super mysterious, and generally allude to the fact that what they do for a living is exciting; like they're James fucking Bond, or something. No, it's much more boring than that, as this quote that I love explains very well:

“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of "Admin." The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid "dens of crime" that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a thoroughly nasty business concern." -- C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

What I'm working on for the majority of my working week, is benign, most people would agree. A colleague reads my blog, openly, not secretly, and they said that they agree with me: the project, and indeed the work of the organisation is benign in their opinion too. It's hard to see how what we're doing is not benign, but we should explore the topic with a little more of an open mind.

Something which you might pay little heed to, but will be well aware of if you've ever been unwell, is that there is a vast mountain of administrative headache, which has to be ploughed through, simply for the privilege of being alive. Even though all my bills are paid via direct debit from my bank account, or auto-renewal straight from my debit card, or some other way of money disappearing constantly from my pocket, still that's not enough. The council will write to me demanding that I tell them who lives in my house, even though I already told them. The car insurance company demanding to see proof that I've never claimed on my policy, even though it is them who administers the policy. Somebody, somewhere, at all times, is expecting me to do something for them, on pain of fine, prosecution... prison even.

The United Kingdom is ostensibly a very difficult place to live, unmolested. If you were hoping to live here, simply paying your rent/mortgage and bills, and expecting that would be enough, you are very wrong: an endless stream of bureaucratic obligations will bombard you, every single day. There are reams of forms which need to be filled in in triplicate; numerous permits, licenses, notices and interminable obligations, which are met with extremely harsh penalties if these constant intrusions into your life are not dealt with immediately.

Each organisation which contacts you thinks that its demands are not onerous, which is true. Taken individually, each task is not particularly difficult or time-consuming. However, when all these small tasks are added together, the demand is huge: I really don't give a shit whether I'm doing my tax return or revising the electoral roll... both tasks are equally irksome; equally intruding into my time, effort and energy. For highly functional people, they perhaps don't notice this burden, but those who are sick - speaking from personal experience - will find it overwhelming, to the point of driving a person to suicide.

While it might seem ridiculous - improbable - that these 'easy' jobs might tip somebody over the edge, to the point that they'd end their own life, if you consider the harsh penalties which are attached to all of these things, they can all threaten to ruin your life. An unpaid parking ticket can lead to £15,000 of court costs and other expenses, which would bankrupt most people. Other minor administrative oversights, like failing to tell the council that your flatmate moved out, could lead to thousands of pounds of fines, and perhaps even a criminal conviction. Cumulatively, I'm sure that you could end up with a very big police criminal record, and be bankrupted many times, simply because you weren't able to open your mail for a few months, because you were sick.

The letters keep dropping on your doormat, and every single one is demanding money with menaces. Every single one of those letters is threatening to lock you up, take away your home, take away your livelihood, take away your children, take away your pets, take away your transport; threatening to bankrupt you, and wreck your chance of ever having a home ever again; having a job ever again. It's a pretty shitty state of affairs, that we can do that to people, who just want/need to be left alone.

 

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Betrayal

4 min read

This is a story about the saddest girl in the world...

Cone of shame

My beautiful, gentle, little baby girl, has suffered a dreadful betrayal. I can't tell you exactly what the first 12 weeks of her life were like. I know that she had to contend with a house full of small children, dogs and other cats, which can't have been easy. When I got her home, she explored the whole house very cautiously, as if expecting that the place would be stuffed full of creatures which would manhandle her; a tiny placid little kitten, picked up like a toy, or jostled by the over-excited play of bigger animals. I don't think she was abused but she certainly wasn't used to being her own self, unmolested.

I can tell you exactly what every single day of her life has been like since July 3rd, 2020, because we have been inseparable. I've hardly left the house. Wherever I've been - in bed, in the bathroom, in the kitchen, in my office, in my lounge - she's been right there, next to me. We've been two peas in a pod. We've been constant companions for each other.

Ragdoll cats are very placid. They are famous for going limp when you pick them up. Obviously, I've wanted to fuss and cuddle my gorgeous fur baby all the time, but I try to respect her independence too. I tried, from the very moment I got her home, to give her space to do whatever she wants to do, whenever she wants to do it: she's the queen of the castle, and she's got the run of the place; she can go wherever she wants, whenever she wants, and I try not to interfere.

Over the course of us bonding, her trust has grown. To begin with, she always quietly tolerated my desire to pick her up and stroke her. She always wanted to be nearby, but never obviously sought affection. Slowly, more and more, she will decide that she wants attention and affection, and she will stand on my chest and headbutt my head, or rub herself on me. She drapes herself across me and 'makes biscuits' - kneading me and suckling on me, in a very relaxed and kittenish way. She's clearly been very fond of her human.

Now I have betrayed her.

She's so trusting that this third visit to the vet, she didn't make much effort to hide when I got her cat carrier out. She didn't put up much of a protest about me putting her into her cat carrier. She didn't make a sound when I drove her to the vet. Apparently, she was very friendly, playful and relaxed before her operation.

Her trust has been broken.

She woke up from her operation, and she was upset with the vet's assistant, because of the betrayal. My poor little baby was trembling when I picked her up.

I had to put her 'cone of shame' on when I got her home, to stop her from licking her stitches, so that the wound heals well and doesn't get infected. She's really had a very bad day, because of me and other humans, who've betrayed her trust.

I really hope she gets over it, in time, and will trust me again. It's really sad, because I think she'd been having a really nice life up until this point, and she really thought that her human was a super nice person who she could trust.

Now she's trying to figure out how to eat with her cone on. She's got the frustration of having to wear it for weeks, and I have to be the cruel human who forces her to keep it on. I'm the cruel human who put it on her.

 

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Dumbest Guy in the Room

4 min read

This is a story about being opinionated...

Boardroom

I cannot shut up. I will not shut up. I could not shut up, even if I wanted to. Sometimes I do want to shut up, although my colleagues would probably snort with laughter at such a notion. In fact, sometimes I can force myself to shut up, a little bit, but it doesn't last very long.

The problem is, that thoughts pop into my head - relevant, useful thoughts - which then spew out of my mouth, after only a moment of hesitation to see if anybody else is going to say anything. To say that I engage my mouth before my brain is quite untrue. In fact, my brain is very thoroughly engaged, meaning that I seem to have ample time to process everything that's being said, think of something relevant and useful, to deliberately hesitate to think about who else might have something they want or need to say, and also to simply give other people a chance to make a contribution... then having completed that process, I speak.

The way that people act in large organisations is weird. Whenever there's a large meeting, like a town hall, whenever somebody asks "any questions?" there's an unwritten rule that nobody is supposed to ask any questions. I follow that rule, because otherwise I'd be hated by my colleagues. I mean, more hated than I am already for being so outspoken.

I've started to get really bored of the sound of my own voice. I very much dislike hearing myself so much. I worry a great deal about how much I talk, versus most of my other colleagues.

I'm the dumb guy in the room. I'm the guy who doesn't seem to realise that we all get paid anyway, whether I make a contribution or not; that we all get paid anyway, whether I'm paying attention or not; that we all get paid anyway... so why bother? The smart guys in the room know that it's best to zone out, switch off, not contribute, keep schtum, and just hope that it somehow makes the working day pass a little more quickly.

It doesn't.

If you go to lots and lots of interminable boring meetings, for sure you don't want to prolong them for any longer than they absolutely must do. For sure, there are good reasons for hating the desperately ambitious people, who ask questions for the sake of making an impression with the more senior members of staff in the organisation, when everybody in the room really wants to go to lunch or go home. For sure, it's idiotic to waste so many people's time, showing off to a roomful of colleagues.

But.

I'm able to get out of bed in the morning because I care about the project I'm working on. When I don't care, the depression is so bad that I can't get up; I can't face it; I can't face the boredom.

I don't know how people do it. How do people, for years and years, turn up at an office for 40+ hours a week, just to make up the numbers; just to be zoned out and not interested in making a contribution?

For sure, there's a difference in how assertive people are. For sure, I'm at the extreme end of assertive, bordering on downright aggressive: I will be heard. For sure, I must be drowning others, more hesitant than I, out of the conversation; out of the discussion.

It's a dumb move. Work is, primarily, a popularity contest. Promotions are based on how much a person is liked by their superiors, not on merit, qualifications, experience, hard work, grit, determination, attitude, or any of the other bullshit which we're told is what promotions are based on. No. Sorry. Wrong. It's all based on popularity. If you want to get promoted, you must be popular with those who are making the promotion decision. It's that simple. No exceptions.

Mercifully, I don't want to be promoted. I'm already director of my own company. I can't be promoted: I'm already the top dog; the main man; the head honcho.

Mercifully, I don't have to play the corporate game. I can just get on with my job, as a professional, which means being as productive and useful as possible, to ensure a successful project outcome.

Sure, I'd like to be popular as well, but I find it's hard to be effective, productive and be popular: the two are often mutually exclusive.

I definitely don't want to be an asshole though. That would suck.

 

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What Next?

4 min read

This is a story about dreams...

Penny

Here is money. Don't spend it all at once. A starving African child would be grateful to have this money. A boomer could buy a house, go out to the cinema, get a taxi home and still have change left, from this money.

A conversation I keep having with a friend who also suffers from existential angst, ennui and general loathing of the rat race, is what I'd do if I was free from the tyranny of rent/mortgage and career considerations. My friend thinks that things would be no different, except perhaps I would be bored. I disagree, but I don't have an easy answer. I have no burning desire to re-train as a landscape gardener or a vet. I have no desire to swap one career - profession - for a different one.

Having had a 23 year long career, and previously - as a child - suffered the consequences of my parents being lazy loser drop-out druggie bums, who refused to get a job and stop scrounging off their parents. My childhood experiences certainly made me want to go a very different way with my life: to be a valuable, productive member of society; to make a contribution; to have a career and a profession. Now, I want to drop out. I want to drop out of the rat race. I want to be a bum; a tramp even.

The time I spent homeless was chaotic, traumatic and stressful at times, but I have very fond memories of a lot of the time, where I connected with people, community; I had a social life. Life was enjoyable. Now it is not.

The friends who I have, who are free from the tyranny of a bullshit job which they can't afford to lose, lest they lose their home, their money, their credit rating and their dignity... they are not bored. They are busy. They spend time talking to people, about stuff other than how horrible the commute to the office is, and other job-related stuff. They find people they like and they hang out with them, instead of being coerced into spending the vast majority of their waking hours, corralled together with people who are equally resentful about having the prime years of their lives robbed so cheaply.

The gap-year-university-I-built-a-school-in-africa-yah-boo-jolly-hockey-sticks brigade are perhaps happy with their lives, because they had pleasant privileged upbringings, in private or selective schools, surrounded by other socioeconomically advantaged kids at all stages, including when they went to university, which continued into first jobs... marry the girl of your dreams and you've always got plenty of money for a house, car, holiday, and school fees for the next generation to carry on doing what you've always done - the best of everything, always.

We must consider that I never went travelling and I never went to university. Couldn't afford it.

I enjoyed a bit of the London young professional scene, but it's quite an uphill battle if you don't have your group of university buddies as a social group.

I found a group of kitesurfers, who became my social group, which was wonderful.

But it all went wrong. They've all got kids now, but I'm divorced. The childless man, who doesn't fit in anywhere. People have moved on with their lives.

Being homeless was great. Homeless people are a community. It's important to be part of a community.

Obviously I don't aim to be homeless, but I am considering it. Such is the extreme level of my misery, that I feel like I'd be happier homeless; cut loose from the tyranny of capitalism, rent/mortgage, career, salary, job, office, commute and all the rest of it, which makes no sense when none of the rewards are there - I'm not supporting a family, I'm not raising children, I'm not benefitting from any work-related social life.

What next? Seriously, I just want to drop out, and to find other drop-outs; other people who couldn't stand the rat race so much, that they ditched their mortgages/rent, careers and other things which are like a miserable trap, unless you are coerced into that system, because you need to provide a decent home for a child to grow up in, which my parents never did. I can be a nomad and at least I won't be fucking up any children's lives.

 

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Insane in the Office

4 min read

This is a story about vacation...

Pixelated

It's been pretty much four whole months since I saw my colleagues face-to-face in the office. As the lockdown wore on, my hair got longer and longer. Working from home, I've tended to wear scruffy clothes instead of wearing a smart shirt. These things make a big difference.

Business attire is important. There are plenty of useless idiots in the working world, commanding high salaries simply because they wear a nice suit. Wearing the right clothes is an effective way of getting people to respect you and to value you, and your opinion. Without the visual cues of the business attire, people can only judge you based on what you say and what you do, which they are hopelessly under-qualified to do.

Being face-to-face is important. So much of nonverbal communication - such as reading a room, or looking for body language - is useful to know if you're rubbing somebody up the wrong way, and therefore to know whether to back off; to let something drop.

In the office, a vast amount of the working day can be eaten up by simply moving around the building - looking for meeting rooms, walking to the toilet, walking to get a sandwich, walking to get a drink - plus there's a lot of opportunity for ad-hoc chats with colleagues. At home, I'm alone with my thoughts for most of the day. I'm incredibly bored. When we have a meeting I'm desperate to talk to somebody; so isolated and lonely.

At the office, if I'm acting a bit strangely, somebody can have a quiet word in my ear. "Is everything OK?" they can ask, kindly. At home, nobody really checks in on me; there's no human connection.

I'm so bored.

I get through all my work so quickly, because there isn't enough to do, and I'm alone with no distractions.

The autumn, winter and spring are going to be incredibly hectic, stressful and high-pressure, so I'm keen that the workload should be managed effectively; expectations have to be set appropriately. I find myself being very forceful, trying to protect myself and my colleagues from being overwhelmed; overstretched. I push back hard on the insidious scope creep; the relentless push to overpromise and underdeliver; an army of soft-skilled fuckwits saying yes to everything because they're yes-men; people-pleasers who don't actually have to do the work themselves - it won't be them who have to work late into the night and over weekends in order to deliver the undeliverable. Nobody thanks you when your project is late, you don't deliver everything you said you would, and the quality is atrocious.

I should stop caring.

Not my circus, not my monkeys.

I should just take the money and keep my big mouth shut.

It doesn't make sense to rock the boat. I should be diplomatic. I should smile and take the money, and ignore the problems; ignore the disaster that's brewing. I know it'd be better for my bank balance to just keep my mouth shut.

It's difficult. My mental health is not compatible with office jobs working for huge organisations, but it's easy money. It's a LOT of easy money. Hard to turn down that kind of money, even if it's toxic to my mental health.

I haven't taken any time off since the start of the year. I have been working as hard as I possibly can. I just want this atrocious period - of financial insecurity - to be over.

When you're going through hell, keep going... and go as fast as you can!

I opt for ripping off the sticky plaster as quickly as possible; a short sharp shock.

Except this isn't short and sharp... it's prolonged.

Interminable.

I'm not sure what I'd do with time off anyway. UK citizens are not exactly welcome in a lot of places, given that our nation is riddled with deadly disease. I hate travelling alone.

I do need some time off though, before I have a breakdown; before I get too sick to work. It's strange, my mental health is very bad, but I'm still very productive. I assume that I'm very difficult to work with at the moment though, but I don't really know, because I don't get any feedback; I don't have normal interactions with anybody. I'm completely isolated and losing my mind.

 

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Something to Take the Edge Off

5 min read

This is a story about crutches...

Office chair

Trawling through my photos from the past three and a half months, I found very few which would be suitable to accompany what I wanted to write today. The photos on my phone are mostly of my cat(s) and not much else. However, this photo does - rather cryptically - allude to what I am now writing about.

When I started the lockdown, I decided that I wasn't going to bother with a desk or an office chair at home; that I would muddle by with my laptop on my lap. I decided - wrongly - that it wouldn't be worth the effort of setting up a proper office at home.

As I already wrote a few days ago, I started the lockdown drinking copiously. Every day after work, I would pour myself a large glass of wine. I would estimate that my alcohol consumption was somewhere in the region of 8 to 10 bottles of wine per week.

As I already wrote a few days ago, I started the lockdown physically dependent on medication. Every night I took sleeping pills. Every day I took tranquillising sedatives.

Then, it became obvious that there would be dire consequences to my physical health.

I didn't want to finish lockdown as a fat alcoholic pill-popper with a hunched back.

Because I delayed setting up my home office, I didn't have a lot of choice for a desk and an office chair, hence why the ugly garish monstrosity - pictured above - has become part of my home office. The desk is super ugly too. However, it's good to have a more professional set-up instead of reclining on my sofa.

The health improvements to my life don't feel like they're paying dividends. I still feel overweight, unfit and I still crave alcohol. Ostensibly, I feel much the same as I did when I was guzzling booze, popping pills and spending 16 hours a day reclining on my sofa. However, we must acknowledge that there is a very significant difference between an alcoholic pill addict, and somebody who drinks in moderation at the weekends, and is entirely medication free. That I have stabilised myself and found almost liveable and almost bearable sustainable routine without my crutches, is not an achievement which should be underestimated.

The backdrop to the past four months has been the global pandemic which has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, and threatens the livelihoods and living standards of hundreds of millions, if not billions of people. If there was ever a time to feel insecure about money, work and housing, it would be now.

I wouldn't describe myself as a particularly anxious person, but the past 5 years of my life have been spent with the threat of destitution hanging over me. I've been forced to generate vast amounts of money each year in order to protect my credit rating and employability, as well as to simply pay rent, bills and service debts. The amount of money needed to escape my predicament was so vast that I was forced into high-risk high-stress situations, which were potentially high-reward. Eventually, perseverance paid off. There was no other choice: a crappy salaried job would have inevitably led to bankruptcy; the books simply didn't balance with some crap paying job.

So, I've suffered 5 years of incredible, immense stress. I've suffered 5 years of living on the edge of ruin.

When the pandemic started to get very bad in Europe my mood improved considerably. The havoc wrought by the pandemic has brought the stress and suffering that I was enduring into the lives of vast numbers of my fellow people. Suffering collectively is far more bearable than suffering alone.

At some point, I want to stop talking about the difficulties in my past and to talk about the future. I want to put some distance between my past and the present. I want to have a period of wealth and security, which clearly delineates 'now' from 'then'.

I note that my abysmal childhood became unimportant when I started to have success and get ahead in life, in my late teens and early twenties. My rapidly growing bank balance, exotic travel, status symbols - like houses, cars and boats - and adventurous hobbies, felt like I could forget about past transgressions against me: the bullies and abusers were rotting, and I was thriving, so I wasn't bitter and angry; I had broken free from the misery of the past.

My rage at my parents - which has been a repeated theme of the past 5 years - and sad memories of a ruined childhood, which has caused me vast amounts of problems... all becomes irrelevant again, as my health and wealth are regained, and my quality of life improves manyfold.

Yes, my crutches are going to change from alcohol and medications, to be luxury holidays and other trappings of wealth, but I don't care. Alcohol and medications lead to misery and death - they're a dreadful trap, which leads nowhere positive.

I still have suicide as my 'retirement plan' but that's a simple matter of practicality, given that I'm now unable to be likely to accumulate enough wealth to enjoy a comfortable retirement before my health starts to deteriorate. It's something I'm going to have to learn to live with. Or rather, it's something that's going to kill me. C'est la vie. C'est la mort.

 

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Lockdown Improvements

5 min read

This is a story about the Coronavirus pandemic...

Lighthouse

Many people planned to come out of lockdown with new hobbies, fitter, healthier, happier and myriad other unachievable unrealistic things. I think that we have mostly come out of lockdown fatter, more unfit, poorer, more insecure, lonely, isolated, bored and generally worse off.

I started the lockdown drinking very heavily and eating McDonald's breakfast every morning. I decided that if we were going to be suffering the misery of being under house arrest, then I would treat myself. Quickly I realised that I was going to end up with clogged arteries and morbidly obese. I was eating takeaway several nights a week and not doing any exercise.

I started the lockdown physically dependent on sleeping pills to get to sleep, and using two different tranquillising sedatives to cope with unbearable anxiety. I decided it was too much hassle to try to keep stocked up with the medications I needed during the lockdown, and I calculated that I have enough left to be able to taper myself off. I didn't want to run out of medication suddenly in the middle of a pandemic.

I started the lockdown working on my sofa, fully reclined. I realised that my posture and back would be ruined by working in such a position for 8 hours a day, followed by many more hours on the sofa after finishing work.

Things had to change.

I thought the lockdown would last a month or two, but I must admit that I didn't think it would drag on beyond a quarter of the year. I tried my best to psychologically prepare myself for the lockdown lasting for months, but I was hopeful it'd be all over after 6 to 8 weeks.

I bought a desk and an office chair.

I weaned myself off the sleeping pills and tranquillisers.

I cut down my drinking, and even went teetotal for 6 or 7 weeks.

I started exercising. Not, like, exercising exercising. Just going for a 10km walk every day. Enough to keep me a little bit active, but nothing crazy.

I stopped getting takeaways. All those takeaways were costing quite a lot of money, when they were all added up. Sure, I felt like I could justify spending the money to enjoy some nice food, as compensation for the doom and gloom of the hundreds of thousands of people dying all over the world, and the restrictions to our freedom... but it wasn't healthy and it was costing a packet.

I paid off all my debt. This wasn't so much a planned thing. It was something that just happened to co-incide with the lockdown. However, it feels pretty damn good to have some savings now. I have a net worth again, which feels good. I have some financial security, even if it is pretty negligible. It had been a very long time which I'd been struggling to get my finances sorted, and it's a big relief to be back in the black.

My life is extremely austere and simple. I have my house, my job, my cat, my car; that's it. My health is probably OK. My weight is OK, although I am carrying some extra weight I'd like to shift, as a consequence of lockdown. My finances are OK. My job seems OK. My housing situation is sort of OK. My kitten is great, although my cat is lost... overall OK. My car has a big dent where an idiot crashed into it during lockdown, in a virtually empty car park, but there are more important things in life than having a shiny perfect car.

All things considered, I think I'm one of the lockdown winners - I'm emerging in far better shape than I went into lockdown. Some people have lost their job, or are about to lose their job. Some people have struggled with alcohol and food. Some people have struggled with mental health. In almost every area of my life, things have improved; I look reasonably well positioned to weather a difficult autumn and winter.

Although losing my cat was the worst thing that happened, it has forced me to connect with my neighbours and the wider community, so I have even managed to live a far less isolated and lonely existence under lockdown, than I was living before - I speak to far more people; I'm more connected and socially engaged.

I thought that if I retreated inwards, living and communicating through my blog and social media, then I would find it impossible to get through the lockdown. It looks like a reasonably good decision, to have taken a break.

It helps that it's summer - of course - which lifts my mood and generally creates a more pleasant and favourable backdrop for life, but I feel hopeful that I've got a decent position of health and financial stability to fight through the autumn and winter. I just need to book some holidays now... I've worked non-stop since early January, when I was discharged from hospital.

 

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I Let My Friend Commit Suicide

8 min read

This is a story about playing god...

Phone

On the 10th of December 2017, a very close friend of mine got me a job at an investment bank. He knew that I was virtually bankrupt. He knew that I had very nearly managed to commit suicide. He knew that my self-esteem was at rock bottom and that I had nothing going for me: no fixed abode, no money, mountainous debts, alcoholism and large gaps on my CV which were difficult to explain.

My friend rang me up and asked if I was sober enough to create a piece of software for the bank he was working for. I said that I could be as drunk as a skunk and still make a decent software system, but that I wasn't in too bad shape - he could count on me to deliver a successful project, if he recommended me as a freelance software engineer to his boss.

If you're particularly interested in the more identity-theft worthy items of my story, I present to you above, the proof that I had proudly put on my suit and gone to work in the Square Mile - also known as the City of London - thanks to the endorsement of my friend. I had spent the day before with my friend and his boss in Warsaw, where they were based, and I was allowed to work in the London office, which is pictured.

A year later my friend phoned me and told me that he was going to commit suicide, by taking an overdose of insulin. I asked him how much insulin he possessed and in what form - vials and 'rapid delivery' pen cartridges - so I could calculate how many doses of insulin he had, and whether it was a lethal dose.

Insulin aspart units is what the layman needs to understand. One 10ml vial might contain 1,000 units. One 3ml pen cartridge might contain 300 units. The important thing is to add up all the vials and cartridges that somebody has, and then you can work out how many units of insulin aspart they have in their possession. My friend confirmed that he had many thousands of units of insulin aspart. The highest recorded survival of an insulin overdose was much lower than the amount my friend possessed, and that patient was left very badly brain damaged. In short, it was a credible suicide threat.

(FYI: people have made surprisingly frequent disclosures to me that they plan to commit suicide by overdose, but this was the first credible overdose plan I'd heard)

So, having scoured the medical literature for the LD50 - the dose that will kill 50% of people - and found that my friend could definitely commit suicide with his insulin, I then did further reading about how long it would take him to die, how long he would remain in a state where he could be saved, and how much suffering and pain he would endure.

Incidentally, he phoned me on a Monday morning while I was at work. I was in Wales and he was in Poland. I was frantically doing this research as rapidly as I could, while trying to keep my friend talking to me; stalling him from following through with his plans.

My research concluded that he would suffer a short period of panic and disorientation - including extreme hunger - before blacking out. He would quickly fall into a hypoglycaemic coma, and would suffer no pain.

Far more disturbingly, my research concluded that he could be 'saved' by rapid medical intervention - an intravenous infusion of glucose - for a substantial period of time: 2 or even 3 days would be 'survivable'. The worst possible outcome would be that he would be 'saved' after 12 to 36 hours, when he might still be in a coma, but he would have suffered terrible brain damage. The case study I had read of the patient who holds the 'record' for the highest ever insulin overdose which was survived, was left with terrible brain damage. All my research led to a single conclusion: if my friend injected all his insulin then I had to call the emergency services IMMEDIATELY or wait until he was beyond the point of 'saving'.

This sounds like playing god, doesn't it?

You remember that time your kid was choking on a bit of Lego and you whacked them on the back so they coughed it up? That was playing god. You remember when your dog was getting old and sick, and you decided they had no quality of life anymore, so you had the dog euthanised? That was playing god.

I'm not a doctor.

I'm not a vet.

I'm not a parent.

What exactly qualifies a person to make a life/death decision?

In this instance, I knew that my friend's diabetes had ruined his circulation and his feet were becoming gangrenous, that he was becoming jaundiced and that his eyesight was failing, because of his mismanagement of his diabetes. In short, he struggled to go about his ordinary daily business, and his health was rapidly deteriorating. I'm not a doctor, but I'm not a magician either - nobody can wave a magic wand and make the chronic irreversible health damage from alcoholism and diabetes disappear. I'm not a doctor, but I know that they don't give liver transplants to alcoholics. I'm not a doctor, but I know how long somebody has to live once their liver is starting to fail and they continue to drink multiple bottles of vodka every day.

Ultimately, it wasn't my decision to make.

My friend phoned me because he knew that I would understand the situation and that I wouldn't panic and phone the emergency services. He knew that he could say goodbye to me, and I would let him die with dignity; in the manner of his own choosing.

Let's not fuck about here: sitting doing nothing, waiting for your friend to die before you ring the emergency services to go and get the body before it starts decaying, is an awful, awful, awful thing to have to do.

Can you imagine knowing that your friend is dying, and that the best thing to do is to do nothing? Every single moment of your childhood, you were told to dial the emergency services if somebody was sick or dying. There was no ambiguity about what to do when somebody's life's in danger: ring the emergency services. EMERGENCY! EMERGENCY!

If I phoned the emergency services too soon, my friend would have been 'saved' and then would no longer have had the opportunity to end his life in the manner of his own choosing. He probably would have been extremely brain damaged, and therefore unable to attempt suicide again. He would have lived out his short remaining time in a hospital bed, dying of liver failure, which is a very unpleasant way to die. Sure, the hospital would have made him as 'comfortable' as possible, but what comfort is there in being bedridden, watching your friends and relative weep and wail about your imminent inevitable demise. My friend had considered all these things.

Did I mention we discussed all this? We discussed all this at length. I went to a great deal of effort to persuade my friend of more positive alternatives. I tried my very best to convince him that it might be much better to use the short time he had left - before liver failure killed him - in order to take a trip of a lifetime, and/or see loved ones.

We have to understand that this was his decision, based on the terrible choices he faced. There were no 'good' options. He had to choose between a quick painless death or a slow painful one, with all of his family, friends and co-workers by his bedside, watching him slip away.

What my personal opinion of the 'right' choice was, is of no concern. My friend asked me to keep it a secret that he was killing himself, until he was dead, and that's what I did. I honoured his wishes. I was a loyal friend who did a very difficult thing, because I knew it's what my friend wanted.

"Oh but your friend really wanted to live" or "it was a cry for help" or "you should always phone the emergency services; you're not qualified" etc. etc. are all the very many opinions I have to defend myself against. Bullshit. Bullshit. Bullshit.

I spent 3 days, not sleeping, not able to think about anything other than the fact that my friend was dying, and then I phoned the emergency services to go and retrieve my friend's lifeless body and notify his next of kin. It was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. It was also the right thing to do because it was the dying wish of my friend. There were no good options. I chose the least bad option.

Today is the anniversary of the phone-calls, the discussions and the decision. Today is the last time I spoke to my very dear friend. For exactly one year, I've had to live with the guilt of knowing that I kept a terrible secret, for just long enough that my friend could pass away painlessly.

It's a terrible thing, but I let my friend commit suicide, and I did nothing.

 

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Blogger's Digest - Day Fourteen of #NaNoWriMo2019

7 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fourteen

Three days of self-imposed isolation aboard my yacht, moored up in the marina, had passed with me spending 95% of my time in bed. My appetite was a fraction of what it normally was, but I had eaten almost everything which required no preparation: cold ravioli, beans, spaghetti hoops and other cans. My T-shirt had dried drips of tomato sauce on it and my hair was greasy and had a permanent cow-lick, from the position I had been mostly resting my head on my pillow.

After three full days of total isolation, which I suppose would not be unusual for a solo round-the-world yachtsman, but was particularly odd in a busy marina during beautiful weather, I felt as though I had a mission to accomplish which I was suitably motivated to pursue, such that I would have a shower, put on some clean clothes and head for shore.

Being alone with my thoughts for so long, I had somewhat fathomed what was at the root cause of this unexpected episode of depression: I was burnt out. It might sound rather odd, considering that I'd quit my job and had decided to spend well over a year in pursuit of leisure. However, I hadn't admitted to myself how heavily the long voyage had been weighing on my mind, and causing me a continuous amount of stress.

I should - of course - have paid the money to have my yacht transported to Greece, but I had dismissed the idea, because of a mixture of pride and also wanting to challenge myself. I knew that it would be a huge achievement I'd feel proud of for the rest of my life, if I managed to sail such a long journey myself, and that I would feel like a cheat and a failure, if I took the easy way out. I wondered whether I would appreciate the Mediterranean as much if I simply flew out there to join my yacht once she was delivered.

I had chartered yachts all over the world, and it was a great way to experience sailing in a different part of the world, for a short holiday.

This was not a holiday.

It was never meant to be a holiday.

I'd made the commitment to live aboard my yacht permanently, because I wanted the adventure and I relished the challenge, but I had been defeated by the UK winter. I had considered the various ways to make the British weather more bearable aboard a yacht, but the appeal of undertaking a very long journey was too much to resist, when it was simply an idea: one of several options which I was considering.

I decided to take the plunge and start arranging my epic voyage during the winter, when I hadn't been sailing for a couple of months, and I was missing being at the sea. With hindsight, I was over-confident and too ambitious. The process of making the arrangements had consumed me, and I hadn't stopped to consider whether I was making the right choice, because I was too busy persuading everybody that it was a great idea - I believed my own bullshit.

It wasn't that parts of the journey wouldn't be extremely enjoyable and well within my comfort zone. I knew that with even the most incompetent crew member, I could easily hop from harbour to harbour, without too much trouble - it would be fun, even on unfamiliar coastlines. The problem was that a sustained period of many of these short hops would have to be joined together, in order to make good progress. The problem was that the journey contained some difficult legs, in waterways which I would have ordinarily gone out of my way to avoid - I had no desire to tangle with busy shipping channels, or sail through straits which were famed for their dangerous currents and many shipwrecks. All the pressure and responsibility was on me, and me alone. I had bitten off more than I could chew.

I still desperately wanted to complete my epic voyage. I knew that at almost every point, now that I had made it to Portugal, I would be better off turning back than carrying on, if I simply wanted my yacht to be transported to Greece. The solution was quite clear to me, and I felt much happier that I had accepted my new decision and was putting it into action.

* * *

"Bom dia. Você fala inglês?" I said to man behind the desk in the Marina office. I had been memorising and practicing this one phrase - "good morning. Do you speak English?" - repeatedly for most of the morning, learning it phonetically using a phrasebook I had brought with me for this part of the journey.

"Yes of course. You're on berth C10, right? You spoke to me the night you arrived" the man replied.

"Oh, it's you. You sound different on the radio. I mean, you sound different from how I thought you would look" I stumbled.

"Ha" he said, politely tolerating my bumbling British awkwardness. "How can I help?"

"Do you know a British skipper called Nikki?" I asked, my face sweating and my hands a little clammy - this was extremely embarrassing.

A broad smile spread across the face of the man. "Yes, of course I know Nikki. She left this morning on Moinho de Vento."

"Vento?" I said in a quizzical tone. I knew that this meant wind, so I assumed he was using a colloquialism, like gone with the wind to say that she'd sailed away. I was crushed. I was also puzzled, because there was no wind and there had been none for several days. "But it's not windy" I said, stating the obvious.

"Yes sure. She's just taken some clients out to get drunk."

"Drunk?" I asked, still perplexed.

"Yes. She takes clients out on Moinho de Vento very often. She's the biggest yacht in the marina and she's mainly used for corporate functions" the man explained. "You don't know her?" he asked.

"Know her? I met her a few times, you know, hanging out at the marina bar" I replied.

"No, not Nikki. Moinho de Vento."

"Ah. I get you now. Tallest mast in the marina. Hard to miss her. I didn't know her name though" I said, feeling like I was making a complete fool of myself.

"Should I tell Nikki you're looking for you? I know she was trying to find you the other day. I told her which berth you're moored on. I hope that was OK?"

"Yes, fine. I mean great. I mean thanks for telling her where I'm moored, and it'd be great if you can let her know I'm looking for her when you see her."

"OK no problem. Consider it done. Everything OK? Happy? Anything else?" the man asked with big genuine smile, putting me somewhat more at ease after my ordeal.

"No. That was it. Thank you."

"Ok my friend. See you around. My name is Eduardo" the man said, offering his hand, still beaming.

We shook hands and I said "adeus" by way of a goodbye.

"My friend, I applaud you for making the effort with your Portuguese" Eduardo said.

It wasn't until I got back aboard my yacht and checked my phrasebook that I realised I had used a version of goodbye which implied I had no intention of seeing Eduardo ever again.

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Seven of #NaNoWriMo2019

10 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Seven

How does one set about making new friends in a new city, when you reach an age where everybody has coupled off and settled into their cliques? This was the question which weighed heavily on my mind, acutely aware as I was that my Brighton colleagues' life priorities were completely different from most of those who I'd worked with in London. Maybe I was just getting older, but it seemed like everybody was married with at least a couple of children. Trying to arrange a night out required a lot of notice and pre-planning - childcare arrangements and what little remained of parents' social lives became a logistical nightmare, and the a well-attended social function could not be held on an ad-hoc basis.

There was a thriving sports and social club, which catered for 5-a-side football, squash and badminton, and a smattering of other sports. As part of my efforts to calm the hyper-competitive side of my personality, I decided to avoid sports, which left me with few other social opportunities which were workplace-related. There was a company Christmas party, a department Christmas party and a a team Christmas party, but for the other 11 months of the year, there was nothing. From 'getting to know you' casual conversations with my colleagues, I understood that their entire lives were spent ferrying their children from party to party: an endless procession of parties and social functions for kids, but an adult night out was something which parents only enjoyed a handful of times each year.

I gravitated towards a group of alcoholics, who had either been quietly relocated from London to Brighton, having spent a month drying out at The Priory rehab, paid for by the company, or some of those whose behaviour was slightly more disgraceful were now kept on a tight leash: short employment contracts and zero tolerance for their prior antics, which had often involved going AWOL for days or even a whole week, and returning to work in a very bedraggled state.

The tolerance of workplace alcoholism was ubiquitous in investment banking. At a certain level of management seniority and age, I couldn't think of a single individual who wasn't excessively partial to their particular drink of choice: red wine, whiskey or vodka. Physical features of these senior colleagues told the whole story: red noses, liver spots, bags under their eyes, beer guts and a haggard look which added ten or fifteen years onto their appearance. They were some of the most brilliant, entertaining and hyper-intelligent people I ever had the pleasure of working with. It was a crying shame that none of them seemed to live beyond their mid fifties, and many were dead by their mid-forties. Given that I had known so many of my former colleagues die from alcohol-related illness, I was certain that investment banking must have a problem far in excess of the national average - alcoholism was practically institutionalised.

During the summer, I had a brilliant time. My new group of friends knew lots of wonderful beer gardens and other sun-traps where we could enjoy several pints of beer or cider, before staggering back to the office. After work, there were delightful terraces to sit on, drinking, while the sun went down. Looking out at the holidaymakers enjoying the beach and the sea, we vicariously partook of their wholesome activities - we felt like we were part of their healthy lifestyle, when in fact we were drinking vast amounts and going home incredibly intoxicated every night.

I suppose that wearing the so-called "beer jacket" meant that when late September arrived and there was a chilly morning, I was a little shocked. I hadn't put a lot of thought into what life would be like aboard my yacht, during the winter.

With a fan heater on a timer switch, I was able to make the bathroom warm enough to make showering bearable. With thick quilts, blankets and warm clothes, I could keep myself cosy enough throughout October. However, as the temperature dropped lower and lower, it was clear that I needed to make a drastic change - my ability to heat the yacht, and its insulation, were woefully inadequate for the UK winter.

One of the reasons for purchasing the yacht had been that I knew I would be able to live aboard it very comfortably in the Mediterranean, or other more southerly and pleasant climates, if my job didn't work out - I owned a truly mobile home. But, the voyage would now be unbearably unpleasant and quite dangerous, with winter almost upon us - gale-force winds regularly swept eastwards from the Atlantic, along with gigantic waves and an immense amount of rain.

Sailing during the late Spring to early Autumn period was amazing in the English Channel, which is one of the windiest places on the planet. Force 4 wind with gusts of force 5 can be very enjoyable for an experienced sailor - exciting - but wet-weather gear is still required even at the peak of summer, because the spray, rain and wind-chill can quickly turn life at sea into a very cold and hostile environment. With the autumn bringing monster waves and storm-force winds, along with biting cold wind and water which feels like ice, there is nothing at all enjoyable about sailing after the end of October.

The prospect of being hit by repeated storms as I battled my way south, attempting to reach the Gibraltar Straits and the warmth of the Med, or perhaps the Canary Islands, was nigh-on suicidal. If I didn't break my mast and have to be rescued, perhaps I would be seriously injured, killed, or at the very least spend a very long time freezing cold and regretting ever having left port. Any crew member who agreed to help with the passage would either be mad or inexperienced and incompetent - it wouldn't be responsible of me to even ask anybody to undertake such a dangerous trip with me.

Meanwhile, I had met a girl - Sian - using a dating app, and I had been spending an increasing amount of time at her house, motivated in no small part by the fact that she had central heating and double glazing. We were an odd couple, given that she was a Gender Studies lecturer at the University of Sussex, and everybody had assumed that she was gay, including her parents. She was also extremely left wing and a regular participant at protest marches: particularly anti-capitalist marches. I thought that my investment banking background would mean that we'd be entirely incompatible, but she was well read, well travelled and had some fascinating opinions which she expertly articulated, so she was incredibly entertaining company. She also enjoyed frequent sex, which was unusual for somebody who'd had so few partners that her nearest and dearest assumed she was deep in the closet.

I suppose the guilt I had carried my whole career, particularly around my direct involvement in investment banking during the financial crisis of 2007/8, meant that I had become more left-leaning and somewhat of a skeptic, regarding capitalism. I knew that people had lost their homes, businesses and vast numbers of people had become dependent on food banks, as a result of the irresponsible actions of people like me. I had suffered no hardship - ever - in my adult life, and I was never going to be forced into a zero hours contract job at McDonalds or to become part of the 'gig economy' delivering takeaway food on a bicycle. I had profited handsomely during the boom years, and I had continued to enjoy an exceptionally high standard of living, without interruption. Guilt had driven me to educate myself about the hardships faced by ordinary British people, and I now read The Guardian as well as The Financial Times; I read the New Statesman as well as The Economist magazine. Having been surrounded by Conservative voters throughout my life, I had lately become more open-minded about Labour policies. I had begun to read books which were harshly critical of the many failings attributable to Neoliberalism, and made a convincing case for socialism, social enterprises and sustainability; the green agenda.

Sian also really liked wine and movies, which was great. It was an ideal way to spend the winter: snuggled up watching challenging award-winning subtitled films which had achieved much critical acclaim in liberal arts circles, getting drunk, having a debate about how to fix the world's problems, and then having great sex.

While she was naturally reluctant to introduce her investment banker boyfriend to her friends, many of whom were right-on feminists, activists and viewed every act of coitus with a man as a victory for the patriarchy, and a terrible defeat for the oppressed minorities, we were - in a strange way - quite compatible. Perhaps it was a relationship of convenience, and it certainly allowed me to defer the problem of how to heat my yacht.

Sian had sudden bursts of uncontrollable excitement. "You MUST take me out on your boat!" she would say. At other times, she remembered that my yacht and my luxury-brand car were emblematic symbols of everything that was wrong and unjust about the world. She asked me to park around the corner from her house, lest one of her friends notice that she was dating a wealthy man, and worse still, an investment banker.

I had the sense that our fundamentally different paths we had taken through life - her through academia and me through an investment banking career - meant that we were never destined to have a long-lasting relationship. I liked her a lot and I certainly never thought or acted as if what we had was casual but there wasn't the same pressure that I was used to, when I had been looking for the right woman to marry and have children with. We were content, snuggling under our blanket, sipping wine and watching subtitled movies; we weren't grasping and reaching... constantly struggling to achieve more and more. It felt nice. It felt healthy and normal.

Equally, I wondered how Sian would be received if I received an inevitable invite for dinner with my boss and his wife, once word got around that I had a girlfriend. My drinking buddies had been seeing less and less of me, until the point where they no longer bothered to ask me if I was going to join them for after-work drinks. They were sure to tip off our gossip-hungry colleagues, and I wouldn't be able to brush off their questions by saying "it's nothing serious" or "it's early days" for very much longer.

If Sian was appalled by my two obvious vulgar displays of wealth and status - my car and my yacht - then she was going to struggle when we went for dinner with my boss and his wife, at their home, which might as well have been wallpapered with £50 notes and built with gold bullion bars, because it screamed "I'M RICH!" at the top of its nouveau-riche voice. I dearly wanted to spare poor Sian an evening of biting her lip, while my boss' wife no doubt wanted to complain about the difficulties of selecting a good private school, and the expense of stabling their horses, with the tactlessness of a woman who's never encountered an ordinary person in their entire life.

I was content, however; content to see out the winter in this fashion. Life was good; life was treating me very well.

 

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