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Sleep Engineering

4 min read

This is a story about exhaustion...

Burndown

If I get my sleep right then almost everything else falls into place. Of course, it might be the case that my sleep is right when other things in my life are going well - cause and effect have no clear relationship here - but life is very miserable when I'm having sleep problems.

Thinking back to when I first got my kitten, I was incredibly stressed that she was very restless and noisy in the middle of the night, attacking everything and anything and keeping me awake. Thinking back a little further, I struggled to get out of bed in the mornings and get to work on time. There was a period when I was heavily dependent on sleep aids - taking copious amounts of sleeping pills, tranquillisers and sedatives, as well as drinking bucketloads of alcohol. Thinking back, things are vastly improved.

I have been feeling very tired at work during the afternoons. I have worked very long days for a lengthy period of time, and it's taking its toll.

So.

I moved my bedtime back by an hour or two.

This morning I woke up before my alarm and I felt refreshed.

Jackpot.

I haven't solved everything, but getting my sleep right is a good start. Waking up feeling refreshed means no sense of dread that I have to leave my lovely comfortable warm bed and go naked into a cold bathroom to have a shower. Feeling adequately rested means that I don't get stressed about falling asleep when I go to bed, and I don't get stressed if I get woken up by my cat in the middle of the night. Getting enough sleep means that I have a pleasant moment where I'm awake and my furry friend is saying "good morning" to me, and I'm not pressing my snooze button and feeling generally stressed and anxious about having to get up.

My quality of life is loads better because of improvements to my financial situation and the fact that I'm not bored out of my mind at work. Alleviating some of the stress of the things which I'm powerless to alter - such as money and work - has given me capacity to alter things I do have control over, such as my alcohol consumption. The improvements cause more improvements; it's a lot easier to change things and make better decisions about my health when other circumstances beyond my control are more favourable. Rich people do yoga because they can - they're bone idle and have lots of time on their hands, and they're not stressed about money, so they can dick around doing stupid dumb shit like yoga, unlike the rest of us.

I do cheat a little in order to be able to sleep whenever I need it, for as long as I need it. It's so wonderful to think "I'm tired and I need 2 hours extra sleep, plus I need to get up at 7am, so I will go to sleep at 9pm" and then be able to be fast asleep on schedule. Most people don't have that luxury, but I cheat, and it helps me immensely. Wouldn't you like to be able to choose when you fall fast asleep too?

Oddly, I don't seem able to have long lie-ins anymore. My sleep patterns are quite routine, which is good. It's all too easy to get into bad sleep habits at weekends and spend the whole of the next working week getting the sleep pattern sorted again. I can see now why parents find it so easy to be early birds, whereas I've struggled my whole life to get into the office on time. I'm really not an early bird, but of course it's beneficial to my career to bludgeon my sleep pattern into whatever routine is dictated by capitalism.

I spent so much of my life with social jetlag: having somebody else's sleep pattern unnaturally imposed upon me, causing me a great deal of pain and suffering. It's been awful, but now I cheat and it's great.

I will let my sleep be as natural as possible this weekend, and hopefully I won't have to cheat next week, but I will if I need to, because my life is difficult and stressful enough without having to put up with social jetlag and the awfulness of a capitalism-imposed expectation of office hours, which is toxic to my health.

 

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Sober October

6 min read

This is a story about being trapped...

Psych ward

Believe it or not, I took this photo inside a locked psych ward. Looks like an inviting place, right? Looks like a calm therapeutic setting for sick people, right? This isn't Broadmoor Hospital for the criminally insane - this is a regular psych ward for sick people.

I keep wondering about what went wrong in 2015 that meant I ended up in that psych ward.

I keep seeing worrying similarities with then and now.

I was working on the number one project for a big organisation - same then and now.

I was playing a pivotal role in an important part of the project - same then and now.

I was getting stuff done and playing by my rules, and nobody was stopping me. Indeed I was being encouraged and applauded - same then and now.

I was irritable, impatient and intolerant of fuckwits - same then and now.

I was incredibly annoyed by anybody who got in my way or slowed me down. I had no time for distractions or anything which wasn't going to contribute to the success of the project - same then and now.

To all intents and purposes, it looks frighteningly similar.

But.

I think the straw that broke the camel's back was that I had to move house. I had to lay out about £6,000 in rent, deposit and other fees, and I then had the pressure of earning £500 per week, just to pay my rent. It was stressful - as moving always is - and it was also an incredible amount of pressure to make that kind of money, just to keep a roof over my head.

I'd been living in a hostel and then a hotel - I had been homeless. OK I hadn't been sleeping rough since earlier in the year, but homeless is homeless. I'd had a very rough year. I'd been homeless for 8+ months, before I finally managed to get a place to live that wasn't a sleeping bag in a park, hostel bed in a dorm, or a hotel room. It's rough, being homeless.

I didn't have any financial cushion back then. I don't really have a financial cushion now, but my credit cards aren't maxed out and I don't have tax bills to pay until the end of the year, so I'm in slightly better shape than I was in 2015.

My brain chemistry had been very badly messed up back then. I hadn't had any stability. My life had been chaotic. My mental health had been atrocious. At least this time round I have been working nonstop for the best part of two straight years. The problems I've had recently have been short-lived and not caused any major problems. I can't remember the last time I was too sick to work. My mood is pretty damn unstable, but probably not as extreme as it was back then.

What's going to make me wake up one day and decide that I need to be sectioned and re-admitted to a psych ward? What's going to break me and render me unable to carry on going? What's going to be the straw that broke the camel's back?

Interestingly, I quit drinking back then, like I've quit drinking now. I think being sober was part of the reason why I became unwell - I had nothing to help me self-medicate.

Maybe I've stopped drinking and stabilised soon enough to allow me to be alright this year, but I already see warning signs: I did something really dumb in the office, which has damaged my reputation and made colleagues unwilling to help me out; to support me and to want me to stick around. I'm making a mess of things, now just as much as I did back then.

Does being aware of this repeating pattern of behaviour make me any more able to avoid it? Not really. Things are so hectic and intense, and I'm so tired and stressed and anxious, that I'm surviving using instinct. The stuff that comes out of my mouth, which is the reason why I'm doing so well, because it's useful stuff that's getting a project delivered, has turned into dumb stuff which makes people not like me very much. My engineering expertise is now being peppered with dumb stuff; regrettable and unprofessional. After an enormous amount of effort to get a very difficult project over the line, I'm exhausted and my mask is slipping; I'm making mistakes. I can't help it - my instincts are all I've got left, because I'm spent.

I'm definitely going to keep pushing ahead with this sobriety thing, because my alcohol consumption had gotten out of control really quickly. However, I don't want a re-run of exactly what happened in 2015, because it undid all my hard work; all my valuable contribution was wasted - all anybody could remember was that I got sick. All the hard work that got the project delivered didn't matter in the end. All that mattered was how things finished up. I might as well be yet another plodding idiot, doing a fucking mediocre shit job, and concentrating my effort on not saying anything objectionable, rather than busting my balls to get shit done and deliver something really hard for an impossible deadline. Why did I even bother?

I'm not quite sure how to navigate the tricky waters of the next couple of months. I have enormous challenges, in trying to rescue my reputation and help my colleagues to remember that I made a massive contribution, and not just see the recent screw-up I made when I was exhausted and strung-out. I have an insane amount of pressure to get another contract sorted and keep the money rolling in. I have a huge risk that I'm going to collapse, have a breakdown and be unable to work, which will ruin everything. It's almost intolerable.

The next 5 or 6 weeks are going to make me or break me.

 

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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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