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My name is Nick Grant and I have manic depression. I write every day about living with bipolar disorder. I've written and published more than 1.3 million words

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Blogger's Digest - Day Nine of #NaNoWriMo2019

11 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 Nine

The summer had felt endless at the time: stepping out of the house in light clothing; shorts and flip-flops; T-shirts and sunglasses. I completely relaxed and enjoyed the good weather, setting aside any concerns about the future, in order to soak up the enjoyment of that pleasant period. I had a tendency to be somewhat absent, brooding anxiously about potential issues, which might be weeks or months away, or indeed might never materialise.

Earlier on in our relationship, Sian would snap her fingers and say "hey? where'd you go?" noticing that my thoughts had wandered and my attention had been diverted away from the present moment, and I had retreated inwardly, ruminating endlessly about a particular future concern of mine.

I had grown comfortable with staying at Sian's house throughout the winter, and spending time on my yacht was a novelty which we enjoyed, even if it was just sipping Prosecco on deck in the marina in the evening, as the sun went down. We engaged in a bit of friendly chit-chat with the yachtie folk, in fine spirits during the summer months, when everybody seemed to be wearing a permanent smile and our skin was sun-kissed and brown, physically epitomising how good our lives were at that particular moment.

I had somewhat taken my eye off the ball.

When the weather became more unpredictable in September, but we still enjoyed a lot of good weather during an exceptional Indian Summer, it was romantic to have to dash below decks when the heavens suddenly opened and a torrent of rain lashed down; the droplets creating an almighty racket as they pelted the thin roof over our heads. We cosied up under a duvet and spooned in post-coital bliss, watching the water as it moved over the hatches and portholes, and feeling incredibly snug and warm - the only thing which could have possibly improved things would have been to have a log fire to watch, as well as the rivers of rain which swept across my deck and drained into the marina. It was better than watching television.

Again, October was upon me and I had made no preparations for the winter. I began to feel very trapped.

The first winter with Sian had been amazing. The pain of the breakup with Caroline was beginning to fade and it had been extremely welcome to be able to begin to move on. The heating situation aboard my yacht was an unanticipated problem, which had caused me a great deal of stress, and Sian had provided an almost-instant solution. Now, however, I felt it was unfair for me to expect to stay with her all winter, again, and I also felt a kind of obligation; a debt of gratitude. Sian was a very easy-going person and there was never any pressure or expectation, but I did feel a natural obligation to please her and go along with her plans, given that she was keeping me warm through the coldest months of thee year. This sense of indebtedness was not something I was used to, and it was particularly exacerbated by the fact that it was to a person, rather than a faceless organisation, to whom I owed that debt; it was a debt which was hard to define, so it was hard to know how it could be repaid. Certainly, I wanted to be relinquished of the burden; to feel free.

I considered my options, of which there were three obvious ones.

Firstly, I could retro-fit a heating system to my yacht. This was likely to be an expensive and time-consuming process, which would be unlikely to be finished until well into the new year. It would be highly costly, yet it would add no value to my yacht, because most buyers would not value it as a feature - hardly anybody lives aboard their yachts in the UK, and in fact most are pulled out of the water and kept on hard standing from approximately November to April.

Secondly, I could sell my yacht and buy another one, which had been designed and built for sailing in more northerly climes. Most of the yachts for sale Nordic countries had efficient heating systems as an intrinsic part of their original shipbuilder's design, and the interior had been sprayed with insulating foam, which was a process which could only be done before the interior of the yacht was fitted. This would be by far the better solution, because a retro-fitted heating system would be highly inefficient without the insulating foam - having to change the gas bottle every week, was an added inconvenience which I didn't want, but a well-insulated yacht would require a fraction of the gas to heat it. However, the process of selling my yacht and buying another one was not going to be quick or easy, and shouldn't be rushed.

Thirdly, I could rent or buy a house of my own. Rushing into a house purchase seemed like insanity, so the only realistic option was to rent, but there were many reasons not to rent a place. I objected to spending a large sum of money, for which somebody else would be receiving the benefits of the yield on their asset - it was dead money; lost. Also, it would be a little hard to explain to Sian why I would want to spend vast sums of money renting a place that I would almost never live in. She was sure to take it as somewhat of an insult; a slight on her hospitality, or perhaps even an indication that I wasn't fond of her, which ran completely contrary to my objectives and my feelings. I was extremely fond of her and she was wonderful host, but that's what made me feel trapped, and as though I owed her something, which was a feeling I wanted to escape.

There was a fourth, completely ridiculous idea, but it was somehow the most appealing of all of them. Because it was such a stupid idea, I tried to dismiss it.

I could have my yacht transported, by road or sea, to Greece or Turkey. She would be lifted out of the water, her mast detached, and then she would be put in a transportation cradle, which would hold her securely, ready to be craned onto the trailer of a lorry. The lorry could either deliver her all the way to my chosen Mediterranean port, or to a UK shipping port, where she would be loaded onto a cargo ship. I hadn't looked in detail at the costs, but the latter seemed to be the cheaper option.

What I should have done was to move her at the end of the summer - to sail her to the Med with a couple of experienced sailor friends who owed me a favour, and maybe some crew members who were looking to increase the number of logged miles they had spent at sea, in order to obtain a Royal Yachting Association Yacht Master qualification, which was necessary for anybody who wanted to work as a professional yacht skipper. Instead, I had almost forgotten entirely about the impending winter, and chosen to enjoy the summer while it lasted.

There was another consideration.

I would have to quit my job again. Human Resources would never want to re-employ somebody who had left the bank, not just once, but twice. This meant that I would have to try my luck as a consultant, hoping to gain a short contract each Spring, which would last me until the Autumn, when I could return to my yacht in the Med. The prospect of escaping the worst of the British weather each year was immensely appealing, and my friends at work were mostly employed on short contracts, earning vast sums of money. Having left my job and easily been re-employed, I felt confident that I would have no difficulty becoming a contractor/consultant to the bank, working for just 6 months of the year. However, it was a radical departure from the lifestyle I'd always known. What would I do about Sian, for example?

* * *

"You know that book you're always saying you're going to write one day?" I asked Sian, as innocently as I could.

"Yes" she replied, already a little suspicious, because I had long since become rather bored by her regular talk about her ambitions to write a book, but had never seen any sign of an attempt to put plans into action. My eyes had usually glazed over when she began to talk about her book.

"Don't you think it'll be too hard for you to write, while you're working full-time?" I asked.

"I have the summer holidays. I was planning on writing my book last summer, until you came along and messed that up!" she said with a cheeky grin. She gave me a little kiss.

"Do you think you could write your book in just a couple of months? Wouldn't you need longer?"

"Why all this interest in my book all of a sudden? I didn't think you were interested" she observed astutely.

"I was interested, but it just seemed like it might've been all talk. I'd really like it if you were able to write your book. You've always been very passionate about it, and I think it's a shame you've not had the opportunity."

"Opportunity? This sounds like you have a proposal of some kind. Why don't you stop beating around the bush and tell me what you're getting at" she said. She was incredibly perceptive and smart - which is why I liked her so much - and I appreciated her directness, but this wasn't the softly-softly approach I was hoping to take.

"Well, you know your colleague... the one who took a sabbatical in order to focus on her artistic career?" I asked.

"Yes. Shiela. It was a big flop, and she came back to work."

"Well, she didn't really lose anything, did she? I mean, they just gave her her old job back, didn't they?"

"She spent her life savings!" replied Sian, aghast at the suggestion that her colleague suffered no loss as a result of her attempt to follow her dream.

"Yes. Well. We're talking about you writing a book here, not trying to launch yourself as an internationally renowned installation artist. Shiela spent vast sums of money renting gallery space and promoting her art, didn't she? You'd just write your book on your laptop, wouldn't you? Zero costs."

"What about my mortgage?" she asked. "I don't have any savings to support myself."

"What if you rented this place out?" I suggested.

"Have lodgers? I don't want to share my house with lodgers!" she said indignantly.

"No, not lodgers. Rent the whole place out."

"Where would I live then?"

"On my yacht, with me."

"In Brighton Marina? I mean, it's alright to spend the night down there once in a while, but I wouldn't want to live there, amongst all those middle-aged men in blue blazers with gold buttons, trying to have sex with women half their age by flashing their cash."

"No not in Brighton Marina, silly" I said, even though I knew I had not fully explained my idea to her yet. "We would cruise the Mediterranean. We would hop between the islands of Greece. We would potter up and down the coast of Turkey. We would drop anchor wherever we found a beautiful secluded bay, and you could tap away on your laptop, writing your book, and then we'd sail off to a little fishing village, eat fresh fish, and wash it all down with local wine."

This was the elevator pitch. To me it sounded like the very definition of living the dream and I hoped Sian would agree, especially with the bait of her being finally able to write her book.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Four of #NaNoWriMo2019

14 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 Four

Caroline and I were driving northbound on the M6 motorway. Matt & Kate, and Paul & Cath followed behind, in our convoy of three vehicles: my van and their two cars. Caroline and I were having an argument.

"I thought you said you wanted a family" she said, half pleading and half accusing me of deception.

"I did, but then circumstances changed" I replied, attempting an apologetic tone.

"So you don't want to start a family anymore?" she asked rhetorically. Her voice betrayed her frustration and she spoke her words a little aggressively.

"No, that's not it. I just don't know at the moment. Things are changing and it's a big decision" I said, evasively.

"But we had made the decision. I started taking folic acid. I stopped taking the pill. We were trying to get pregnant."

"Yes, I agree. That's what I wanted at the time. That's what we wanted. Then things changed."

"You mean you selfishly decided to quit your job and pursue this stupid hare-brained idea of yours. THAT'S what you mean" she said, gesticulating with annoyance at the van we were in.

* * *

I had quit my job.

I had quit my job because even after trying every anti-depressant that my doctor could prescribe me, I still found that my life was intolerable. I felt trapped by my career. The prospect of spending the next 20 or 30 years working a 9 to 5, Monday to Friday office job felt like a fate worse than death, quite literally: the anti-depressants had brought so little relief, and suicidal thoughts plagued me with ever-increasing frequency, such that I felt I only had two choices: resign or kill myself.

There was, of course, a third option. I could have opted to be off work sick on a long-term basis. The investment bank had a generous policy for anybody who was sick for more than 6 months, allowing them to retire early. The income would be a tiny fraction of what a successful investment banker who continued to work into their late forties or early fifties, would expect to retire with. If I chose to resign and keep my reputation intact, I knew I would be welcomed back into the investment banking world with open arms. I knew that being pensioned off early due to ill health would be a career-ending move: a reputational stain which would follow me around until my dying day.

Getting an investment banking job is paradoxical - you can't get a job in investment banking without experience, and you can't get the investment banking experience without the job: Catch 22. I had been lucky enough to get a highly sought-after summer internship, due to a distant relative being a senior executive at a City firm. Without connections, it was impossible to get a foot in the door. I knew that I was incredibly fortunate to have my career, and to have been rapidly promoted. I was liked and respected by many colleagues. I would not struggle to get my old job back, or find another investment bank which wanted to hire me. However, I could not carry on working in an office anymore.

* * *

"It's not a 'hare-brained idea', Caroline" I said, speaking her name with a condescending tone. I was annoyed and beginning to get angry. I spoke through gritted teeth. "I am a qualified electrician and the business is quite profitable. I am a skilled tradesman whose services are in demand in the local community."

"Profitable!" she snorted. "You had to sell the boat and the MG which you bought for me as a birthday present, because you said you couldn't afford the upkeep."

This made me furious. I was about to angrily reply, but she hadn't finished.

"We are going to Wales on holiday"  she said, putting particular emphasis on the word "Wales" as if we were taking a break from our pleasant lives to suffer the torments of Hell - a vacation to the underworld - or embarking on an excursion to a warzone. "Matt & Katie just got back from Florence, and Paul & Cath are going trekking in the Atlas Mountains in a few weeks."

"Yes, that's the whole FUCKING POINT" I replied; my temper was barely under control and my voice was raised. "The main reason for this trip was so that I could teach Paul & Cath some of the mountaineering skills they're going to need, and so they can test their equipment. It was YOU who has managed to turn the trip into a couples' romantic luxury getaway and insisted on us renting a gigantic converted barn with a hot tub. Paul, Cath and I were going to sleep in tents until you hijacked the trip."

"But Katie hates camping" protested Caroline.

"It's not about Katie. It's not about Matt. It's not about you. None of you were even invited. I offered to take Paul and Cath on a trip to Snowdonia to help them prepare for their expedition to Morocco."

"I needed a holiday, Gavin. I'm not going to spend my holiday, in the middle of February, freezing cold in a tent. We're not going skiing this year, which will be the first year where we've not had at least one ski trip - our friends are devastated that we're not joining them, and I'm devastated too. Skiing is the only time when I get to catch up with a lot of our friends. We haven't had a holiday since last year and we haven't booked a single holiday for this year."

"This is a holiday, isn't it? YOU wanted to make this into a holiday by renting a luxury converted barn. We went on holiday in November, which was only three months ago" I said with exasperation.

"This doesn't count. Malta doesn't count."

"MALTA DOESN'T COUNT?" I shouted.

"Yes, it was a last-minute deal and the hotel was grotty - you said so yourself. It was a short-haul flight with a naff airline and it was cloudy half the time. You ended up having to buy a jumper and a pair of trousers on the day we arrived, because you were cold, remember? Besides, a week doesn't even count - that's what I'm saying. A holiday should be at least 2 weeks or else it doesn't count."

"DOESN'T COUNT?" I sputtered with rage.

"Yes. By the time you've unpacked and settled in, it's time to start packing up your stuff and getting ready to leave. It's hardly a holiday is it? It's more of a mini-break, except we went to Malta instead of somewhere exciting like New York or Rome."

"We've been to New York and Rome."

"I was just giving examples of proper mini-breaks. You get my point" she said, folding her arms as if the matter was settled and she had won the argument.

* * *

It was true - we had been forced to dramatically change our lifestyle since I had quit my job and become a self-employed electrician. Caroline's job as a solicitor working with asylum seekers, earned her only a fraction of what she would be able to earn if she joined an international law firm - like her father's - but she wanted to make a worthy contribution to society; she wanted to help the needy and vulnerable. She refused to countenance the idea that she could become the main breadwinner if she set aside some of her lofty principles and instead took the highest paying job she could find. However, she said it would break her heart to leave the charity she worked for; she couldn't live with the guilt, knowing that she could be helping clients with gut-wrenchingly awful stories, fleeing persecution.

For such a nice, kind and charitably-minded person, Caroline's version of a "normal" life had been shaped by her privileged upbringing. The enviable lifestyle which we had hitherto enjoyed together had been a continuation of what she had experienced throughout her life, without any interruption. When I bought her a highly collectable classic British sports car for her 25th birthday, she was thrilled - having dropped hints that it was something she'd always wanted - but lavish gifts weren't particularly exceptional in Caroline's family. Some years ago, her mother had given her father a hand-built limited edition Morgan sportscar, which she'd been on a waiting list for several years to obtain, to celebrate him becoming a partner at his law firm.

My decision to become an electrician had been motivated, in no small part, by how guilty I felt about being an investment banker. Caroline was helping asylum seekers to escape torture and murder, and was comparatively poorly paid. Meanwhile, I was helping the wealthiest 1% to become richer and richer, while also becoming quite rich myself. I felt no 'warm fuzzy feeling' about the work I did. Often there were very ethically questionable things which I had to accept as part and parcel of the job. Mergers and acquisitions offered the opportunity for cost-cutting "restructuring" which inevitably meant redundancies. I was responsible for thousands of people people being sacked, while Caroline was heroically saving families from tyrannical regimes.

I had seen many colleagues squander their wealth, attempting new ventures, only to gratefully return back to their investment banking career after their startup companies and angel investments quickly gobbled up their wealth. An investment banker's entire career is spent scrutinising the accounts, forecasts and business models of their clients, to whom they are lending money or helping to float on the stock market - it's so easy to mistakenly believe that doing business is easy, when it's not your money or your company. Returning colleagues had gained nothing of any value - a very expensive lesson; a costly mistake. They all said they regretted ever leaving their comfortable investment banking careers. We used to make jokes about being kept in "golden handcuffs".

I decided that I wanted to retrain. I decided that I wanted to be qualified in something other than banking, but I felt certain that my age would count against me in law and accountancy: I should have chosen a different profession at a much younger age. I considered dentistry and medicine, which required a substantial amount of amount of time and money before I could expect to earn a high income. The living standards, which Caroline and I had enjoyed for many years, would be decimated; our plans to start a family would be delayed by 5, 6 or 7 years... or maybe more.

I chose a new trade instead of a new profession. Relatively speaking, the training to become an electrician was cheap, quick and easy. The expense of setting up my business as a sole trader - the van and the tools - didn't seem like very much money at all: less than the cost of what Caroline would count as a holiday, which met her expectations. If I did have to go back to my investment banking career, I would have lost very little money.

* * *

I sulked, bitterly, thinking Caroline was spoiled and entitled; that she was a bad person and that her expectations were unreasonable. I wanted to criticise her for wanting luxury holidays, when her asylum seeker clients were so desperately impoverished, but I knew that it would be desperately hypocritical of me - I had wanted luxury holidays just as much as she had. I had chosen to sell my soul, doing the devil's work as an investment banker. I could hardly lecture her for wanting the lifestyle to which we had both become accustomed. I wanted to tell her that it wasn't fair: she could feel smug about the good work which she was doing in the world, while I felt guilty about my own immoral profession. However, her choice to do low-paid charitable work was not to blame for my troubled conscience and depression.

The other thing I wanted to tell her, was that I wasn't sure if I wanted to carry on living. I wanted to tell her that I didn't want to become a father, and then decide to kill myself. It seemed like too much of a gamble: to hope that my depression would lift and my suicidal thoughts abate, as soon as we had children. I wanted to discuss all these things with her, but I didn't want to upset and alarm her. How do you renege on a promise to provide a wonderful life: a big wedding, children, a huge family home, private schooling, luxury family holidays, and enough trust fund money set aside to bankroll the children through university.

How can you admit that you've tried your hardest to keep going with an extremely well paid career, but the job makes you want to kill yourself, so the dream life we had imagined is over?

* * *

"Is this place we're going to be staying nice?" I asked, trying to make peace and restore a pleasant atmosphere in the van.

Caroline's face lit up. "Oh it's gorgeous. Every room has its own log burning stove. There's an Aga. The main living space is to die for - tall glass walls on both sides with panoramic views of the mountains, set in acres of private land. It's cosy AND luxurious. The barn is hundreds of years old and has its original oak beams, but the conversion was done by an award-winning architect. It's featured in lots of magazines. Did you not see the pictures I sent you?"

"Nope. So you're looking forward to it?"

"Yeah. Can't wait. Katie has brought a goose and Matt had found a butcher on the way who's got half a lamb for us to collect. We spent a small fortune on food and wine in Waitrose. This is going to be fantastic fun."

This was not what I had in mind originally. I had brought some packets of dried pasta and dehydrated sauce, which could be cooked on a camping stove, with melted snow, to prepare Paul and Cath for their trip to the Atlas Mountains.

"You should have brought the fondue set" I said, with barely concealed sarcasm.

"One step ahead of you! It's in Matt & Katie's car. I was going to surprise you - I know how much you love fondue."

"I wonder how many mountaineers carry kilos of cheese and a fondue set up a mountain in their backpacks" was the immediate reply which sprung to lips, but I managed to hold my tongue. "Oh yes, lovely surprise darling. We're going to have a lot of fun" I said instead, with the very best forced smile which I could muster.

I glanced backwards at the pile of rucksacks in the back of the van. When I had been loading everybody's rucksacks into the van it briefly reminded me of the expeditions I had been on with my university mountaineering society. I had been eagerly anticipating re-living some of those happy memories of time spent in the mountains. Now I felt as though my miniature expedition had been hijacked by Caroline and Katie's desire for a luxury jaunt into the countryside.

As we continued our journey towards Snowdonia National Park, I wondered if we would even leave the comfortable confines of the palatial barn conversion, and venture into the mountains at all.

 

Next chapter...

 

Step Three: Rinse & Repeat

6 min read

This is a story about repetition...

Bottles

Drug addicts and alcoholics know a lot about relapses. What dreadful consequences they suffer when they fall off the wagon. Am I immune from such things? Am I the first person in the history of humanity to outsmart addiction? No. Of course not.

Readers who have followed any of my story might wonder if I've started drinking again, or have become addicted to sleeping pills again. No. No I have not.

I went to the supermarket yesterday - a big fancy supermarket with lots of lovely things to choose from - and it was difficult to stay away from the alcohol aisle, but not impossible. The whole point about being an alcoholic or an addict is that you're powerless over the substance(s) that you're abusing. I do not offer my successful self control as evidence of my immunity to addiction and alcoholism, but it does prove that I'm in control, which cannot be said of those unfortunate wretches who are in the grip of active addiction and/or alcoholism.

Rehabs are full of charlatans who claim that they have a magic cure for addiction and/or alcoholism, but all recovery comes from within - how bad do you want it? I'm not saying that those who are killed by their addiction and/or alcoholism didn't want to be clean and sober, but they clearly wanted to be drunk and high more than they wanted to avoid their inevitable demise, or else they wouldn't have died. Unfortunately, the self-reinforcing draw of addictive substances can overpower the best of us, and although I do view addicts and alcoholics as "victims" of a disease, it's also demonstrably clear that people who have no problems with drink and/or drugs - including those people 'in recovery' - were simply lucky enough that the scales were tipped marginally in their favour.

My life has potential which would be churlish to deny. It's not fair for me to say "everything is ruined so I give up" when clearly I have high earnings potential, and with money comes opportunities to escape a miserable life and get a better one. Sure, I can get overwhelmed and decide that I don't have any energy left to keep fighting, and I would quickly be wrecked and ruined by our over-competitive coercive and exploitative society, which would dearly love to trample me underfoot, but I stand a better chance than most people of escaping the rat race.

Yep, I cheated a couple of times this week. I used a sleeping pill on a couple of nights to help me force my sleep pattern into the one which capitalism demands. I used a sleeping pill to combat the incredibly negative side-effects of social jetlag, caused by the toxic demands of office hours, contrary to human health and welfare.

Did I relapse? Nope.

What does relapse even mean for me? I've never been an alcoholic.

What does relapse mean in terms of mental health episodes? My mania-driven achievements are widely celebrated and cheered on by the capitalists who've been assisted by my immense productivity, which has been almost superhuman, but has come at great personal cost. My mental illness has been on public display for many years, yet my paymasters don't care because I'm delivering the goods - so long as I keep up the successful results, my violent mood swings are tolerated, and the results of my manic episodes are highly prized by all involved, especially by those who provoke me into doing high-pressure projects with unrealistic deadlines.

I hope - eternally - that the repeating patterns are not on a downward trend. I attempt to learn from each mood cycle, and to hold onto the gains and not give up so many losses. I try to limit the downright outrageous negative consequences of unrestrained mania, and I try to fight through the devastating depression that follows, forcing myself to keep inside the artificial constraints of some reasonable tramlines, knowing that it will be ultimately beneficial for me and help me to escape from the boom and bust... most importantly to escape from the bust!

Self medication with the occasional sleeping pill is infinitely preferable to routine intoxication with copious amounts of alcohol, although it's easy to convince myself that neither has any long-term ill effects, clearly my health will suffer if I drink heavily on a regular basis, even if my wealth and professional reputation are not impacted.

It's all a bit boring really. Uneventful. I'm very good at putting one foot in front of the other, I just don't like it very much, especially when going on a journey I've done a million times before. There's not much pleasure left in renting a house, moving my stuff, starting a new job, impressing new colleagues or delivering a project which is exactly the same as every other project I've ever delivered in my long and illustrious career. I just do it for the money.

Some might accuse me of being a dry drunk but they are idiots. Every day that I struggle through the rat race puts a significant amount of pounds, shillings and pence into my pocket. Every day that I force myself to do the intolerable shit that I have to put up with, is a large step closer to freedom. I have no need to adopt a significantly different life at the moment, because the life I have is staggeringly lucrative, which unfortunately means that it's the quickest route to financial independence and housing security, which is the most important thing for my health and wellbeing.

Sobriety between now and the end of October is something quite welcome - it will help my health immensely. Working between now and the end of my contract, on Halloween, is something that will help my wealth immensely. It's incredibly dull and boring, but it's got to be done. It's easy, but it's repetitive. When was the last time that you put up with a shit job that you hated? Probably never. When was the last time you spent years doing boring, repetitive, easy stuff? Probably never. You just wouldn't put up with it.

 

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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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Help or Hinder

6 min read

This is a story about giving a hand up not a handout...

Empty cupboard

In my 39 years on this planet I've come across a few people whose lives I've tried to intervene in to produce a positive outcome. I'm somewhat undecided as to whether I'm helping, hindering, or making no difference except to myself, because I've wasted time, energy and money where it might otherwise have been invested in my sister, my niece or my friends and other important close relationships.

I try not to over-invest in anyone or anything. I'm heavily invested in work, but I still treat it like a job and I don't work too hard or take things too personally - work is just a means to an end; an efficient way of complying with capitalism's coercion.

There are two individuals who I have invested a significant amount of time, effort, energy and money into helping. I should qualify what I mean by "significant" when it comes to money. I expect that to most of my readers "significant" does not have the same meaning as it does for me. The only sums of money which have had a significant impact on my life have been related to my divorce and £8,000 of unpaid rent and bills which an ex-flatmate owes me. This is not a boast - it's simply the honest truth about my good fortune in life.

The first individual was a homeless alcoholic man I met in a park. He was making a great deal of effort to deal with the clusterf**k of issues he faced, which were bereavement trauma, commensurate self-medicating alcoholism, physical health issues related to sleeping rough, and the general reluctance of the welfare state to see his life as valuable. He had been repeatedly denied the holistic care that he needed: bereavement/trauma counselling, a residential alcohol detox, a residential rehabilitation program, a hostel bed and welfare payments to allow him to eat without begging until he was physically and mentally well enough to be able to work.

It seemed as if this first fellow was worth helping, because I could at least get him off the streets, into a hostel, and provide as much support as possible to help him navigate the maze of state services in order to get the alcohol detox and rehab that he desperately needed, as well as navigating a further maze of state services in order to get welfare payments to give him a meagre income while he recuperated.

To my mind, it was worth the money of renting a room for this guy and meeting him every day, to help support him through interminable meetings with the local council and various bureaucrats who act as gatekeepers, stopping sick people like him from becoming well and getting back on their feet.

The second individual was a young cocaine addict I met at a rehab. He was mostly adhering to the rehab program, although he had failed a drugs test on a couple of occasions and was obviously not committed to an unrealistic level of abstinence from drugs and alcohol. I felt sorry for this young chap because he'd already badly screwed up his life by getting a criminal record, yet he was clearly an intelligent and enterprising fellow. I suppose the second individual's issues were more complex, having to do with upbringing and the company he kept, which was liable to keep him forever in a life where recreational use of drugs was commonplace, and drug dealing was also an ever-present temptation, for easy money. I wouldn't be able to give an oversimplification of the underlying issues, so I won't even try - it would do a great disservice to that young man.

To my mind, it was worth the money of providing financial assistance to the second guy, because I hoped that he would see me as a friend, instead of a parent or other authority figure; I hoped that he would naturally arrive at the conclusion that it's a good idea not to abuse the kindness of friends, and begin to change from the mindset of "borrowing" and stealing from friends and family to feed a drug habit, to a new form of behaviour where he would see that some people are kind and patient. I thought he could use another person in his life who wasn't going to get fed up with his lies, his dishonesty and eventually his behaviour being so resistent to change that he would end up abandoned. I felt I could help because I have deep pockets and a lot of patience.

With the first individual, he got his hostel bed, his alcohol detox, his rehab, and now he's lived 5 years clean and sober, he got married and he's starting his own business. He's my big success story.

With the second individual, he's managed to rent a room. That's about where the good news ends. The second individual has had vastly more financial investment from me, which seems to have made very little net difference... in fact, he seems to be more in debt now than when I started trying to help him. My tireless patience and refusal to abandon him seems to have only ever once become apparent to him, when he asked me why I kept forgiving him, which was a wonderful moment. At least if I'm the one and only person in his life to have never abandoned him, and that's caused him to question whether he should "borrow" and steal from his friends and family until they cut ties with him and abandon him, then that's progress of a sort.

I'm conflicted about whether I should continue to support the second individual. I suppose I made a decision early on that the way I was going to help him was to not abandon him, so in a way I'm committed. What can be said for certain is that he is exceptionally talented at p*ssing off his friends and family and losing any source of income, such that he regularly becomes destitute, so there will probably be many more occasions where he will slowly realise that it's very useful to have me as a loyal friend who's decided to support him no matter what, purely for the point of teaching him the lesson that not everybody will abandon you: there is some value in treating certain loyal friends with more respect than everybody else.

My girlfriend tells me that I'm being used and that I should abandon the second individual, given his repeated demonstrations of an inability to learn, and an inability to recognise a golden opportunity to receive assistance. I've regularly offered to help in life-changing ways - to break the cycle he's stuck in - but he's been impossible to persuade. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink.

This essay is not about what a worthy and wonderful charitable individual I am, but in fact about the ethical dilemmas I face about whether I'm helping or hindering; whether I'm investing my considerable resources in the right places.

 

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How The Other Half Live

5 min read

This is a story about the life of riley...

Camp bed

It seemed to irk a multimillionaire friend that I didn't consider myself to be in the top 2% of the world's wealthiest people. In terms of cash, assets and in terms of income, I meet none of the test criteria which would consider me to be one of the top 2% of the world's richest. However, we should think about how we perceive ourselves, no matter what the hard numbers say.

Most people I know consider themselves to be "working class made good". That is to say, they have very many anecdotes about "how hard" they "had things as a child". The claims are very reminiscent of the Monty Python sketch, where a group of men attempt to outdo each other in their boastful claims about how well they've done for themselves, from humble beginnings.

Eventually the boasts become rather dubious:

I had to get up in the morning at ten o'clock at night half an hour before I went to bed, drink a cup of sulphuric acid, work twenty-nine hours a day down t'mill, and pay t'mill owner for permission to come to work, and when we got home, our dad and our mother would kill us and dance about on our graves singing Hallelujah.

The point of the sketch is to mock reverse-snobbery and the exaggeration of how hard things were "in the olden days".

I think there's something innate in us which assumes we're in the less fortunate "half" of those who we have everyday interactions with. We feel more in common with the supermarket checkout assistant than we do with somebody we see driving a supercar. When we see somebody who is undoubtedly on a modest wage, we assume our own income and assets are closer to that person, than to a person who is making a vulgar display of their wealth.

This is something I wrestle with every day: am I rich, or am I relatively - compared to my peers - quite poor?

My friends all own houses (or at least the mortgage companies own them) and they all drive quite new cars (although they could be on hire-purchase). My friends go skiing from January to March. My friends can be seen sunning themselves in luxury holiday destinations on a regular basis. It's easy for me to form the opinion that I lost all my money, and I'm pretty much starting from zero. In fact, I'm starting from a highly indebted place.

Then, I have a wake-up call and I realise that some of my school-friends who do exactly the same job as me have not enjoyed a fraction of the cumulative career earnings, which I have. I've had those ski holidays and those luxury trips to exotic locations, and nobody can ever take those experiences away from me.

Sometimes my life flatly refuses to give me all the things I need at the same time. If I have a house, then I don't have a job. If I have a girlfriend then I don't have any money. If I have friends then I don't have my sanity.

The getting of the things - the difficult things - is more difficult than you can even imagine. In fact, it's better not to imagine, to plan and to worry. Be one of those people who drifts along aimlessly. Making hard things happen is too stressful.

I'd love to say that I'm genuinely disadvantaged and held back, but the truth is that despite my very best attempts to ruin my life and destroy my future, things keep happening which are quite good; enviable.

Gathering together my boxed belongings dating back 20 months, during which period I very nearly died in a city which was completely alien to me, and denied any visitors (although I was in a coma anyway) and the strange way with which I've wended my way back into civilised society, via a doctor who read my blog, via an alcoholic who recently committed suicide, via a kitesurfer who I've never worked with and via an army of friends who ceaselessly keep me in the land of the living, via the ethereal world of the internet... that's not easy.

My body started to protest before I even lifted the first precious box of my belongings into a van. I live betwixt and between the land of the fully conscious, and the land of the intoxicated: Those whose senses have been dulled with pills, powders and liquids.

I feel greater affinity for the afflicted ones - the alcoholics and the addicts - but it would be churlish of me to count myself amongst their number, as I lay my head down on a pillow in a house worth half a million pounds (I'm just renting it BTW).

I expect you've made your mind up, whether you're better or worse off than me, but be aware that your perception can be warped, and you're more likely to consider yourself less fortunate, than more fortunate - it's a common feature of human psychology, no matter how illogical it is.

In closing, I would say that I am very very tired and I am in a lot of pain, with some obvious problems with my muscles and kidneys which might require medical intervention, but I'm also walking around my gigantic house, unable to believe that rolling the dice has made this happen for me. I'll curl up in my sleeping bag in a minute, and wake up in the morning like a child when Santa Claus has been to visit. I definitely think of myself as one of the lucky ones.

 

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Adjustment Disorder

7 min read

This is a story about provocation...

Pathway

I suppose the reason why my episodes of mania synchronise perfectly with periods of high stress and exhaustion, is some kind of defence mechanism - perhaps an evolutionary adaptation; something deliberately left in my genes, because it's served a useful purpose during unsettled times throughout the history of humanity.

It's problematic for me to work in an open-plan office at the moment. It's problematic for me to be surrounded by so many mild-mannered and quiet individuals, who seem happy to spend all day looking at their email inbox, waiting for something interesting to appear.

How my colleagues manage to cope in an environment that's pretty stale and ultra-conservative, I don't know. Big personalities and loudmouths are not the kinds of people who become long-serving members of my organisation. In fact, a girl I dated from my office said she cried when she got her security pass, because its expiry date was 10 years in the future. "Nobody would choose to work here" she said.

It's not that bad.

I like it.

I'm just not so sure that everyone who's within earshot of me is my greatest fan. I have a foghorn-like voice in two situations: 1) when I'm scared and insecure, and 2) when I'm manic, like I am now.

I suppose I knew that mania was cropping up - rearing its ugly head - but it served a purpose. I needed to find a place to live and make all the necessary moving preparations. I needed to continue to work hard at my job, while also finding the extra energy and the motivation to do something I hate: Moving.

The mania has propelled me to move very fast, but it also causes my brain to speed up dangerously. A colleague told a joke about friction coefficients - a classical physics joke - and I said I could come up with a better one about quantum mechanics, in only a few seconds. According to my colleague, it took me no more than 15 seconds to invent a "XXX walks into a bar..." type joke, which was actually pretty good considering I thought of it on the spot AND it involved two really fundamental things about quantum mechanics. Nothing to do with Schrödinger and his cats, but actually to do with Planck and his constant... but I digress... both jokes have a very small audience who'd appreciate them.

I'm fizzing and crackling with so much energy at the moment that I'm physically uncomfortable to be around. I think I'm literally giving people near me headaches.

One of the first things I said this morning was "do chairs really exist?" which was supposed to be funny, but my colleagues reaction was to tell me it was too early to start talking about philosophy.

I didn't get to sleep until 3:30am or maybe even 4am.

Does the lack of sleep cause the mania, or is the insomnia a symptom of the mania? It's impossible to know.

It's not like I couldn't sleep, but I can't see how else I can fit everything into the 24 hours of the day, without some late nights. I know that I need regular bedtimes. I know I need lots of sleep. But, there's so much to do.

The busier I am, the more productive I am, strangely. Today I did all kinds of horrible jobs that I wasn't looking forward to, like buying a washing machine, booking a van to move my stuff, arranging to have broadband internet installed, arranging to have my post redirected and a zillion other admin jobs, but I also managed to do a piece of work that I'd been putting off for days and days.

Where I'm finding the energy from to maintain my daily writing, as well as the development of NickBot™ and the migration of my website from one hosting provider to another, I have no idea, considering that I also have a demanding full-time job and I waste at least 50% of my time saying stupid things out loud and distracting people.

I guess I was wasting a lot of time and energy on a bad relationship, so escaping that has released me from a lot of pointlessly exhausting nonsense. I was very trapped. I was very miserable.

I'm very stressed now and I felt momentarily like I was very alone, but perhaps that's what prompted me into a frenzy of activity, sending out lots of messages to people I care about, trying to surround myself with people who care about me. There's a horrible period of stress approaching rapidly - moving day, and subsequent days - but I'm pretty well prepared for it, which I'm surprised about, because I can often become too overwhelmed by anxiety to even leave my bed. I'm surprised that depression hasn't laid me low.

All of my psychiatric problems can be considered acute: i.e. they have been spontaneously provoked into existence by the extreme set of life circumstances that I'm simultaneously dealing with. This is adjustment disorder which is just another way of saying "your life is hell right now" and that quite rightly, my brain and body are compensating for the extreme demands placed upon me.

I'm pretty terrified right now, of screwing up the good relationship I have with my colleagues and my workplace. People have been patient with me, but that patience is wearing thin. It's unusual for a manic episode to last so long, but I've managed to keep myself sustained for periods of 6, 8 and even 13 weeks before... but it always led to a horrible crash. There have always been disastrous consequences for allowing too much of my mania to overspill into the open-plan offices which I work in.

I try to rein myself in. I try to put my headphones in and keep my head down. But, then somebody wants to ask me something. Then I overhear something and my red-hot brain which is travelling at a million miles an hour immediately sparks off and I'm talking - interjecting - with something which I think is profound, but nobody can keep up with me... I'm just acting a bit weird and annoying, from the point of view of my colleagues.

I'm working from home for a couple of days. I'm going to try to pace myself and remind myself that I've got a nice long overlap of my tenancies, so I don't have to move everything all at once. If I forget anything, I can always make more trips. There's no need for me to put so much pressure on myself.

I'm pushing hard in every area of my life, simultaneously. I want my colleagues to think I'm a brilliant genius who can do anything. I want my perfect house, fully furnished and looking beautiful. I want to feel instantly at home in a city which I've barely visited. I want my side project - this website - to make a giant leap forward, in terms of technology.

It's too much, and there will be a price to be paid.

I need to be super careful.

I can't afford to lose my job, for example.

I can't afford to lose anything, in fact.

Everything teeters dangerously on a cliff edge.

But, I've kind of gotten used to living on the edge.

If nothing else, at least this period is quite life-affirming and I'm coping remarkably well. Even when I got in trouble with the big boss the other day, I managed to rescue things very rapidly and get back on good terms. Even when I wasted days and days procrastinating, I caught up very rapidly. Even when I felt that there was too much to do in too little time, to move house without dying of stress and anxiety, everything seems to be falling into place.

I've written twice as much as I meant to, of course, because I can't quite rein myself in; I can't quite pump the brakes and slow myself down.

So long as I keep doing what my colleagues are doing, which is mostly killing time looking busy, then I'll probably get through this difficult period without doing too much damage. Less is more.

 

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Our Revels Now Are Ended

14 min read

This is a story about the stuff dreams are made of...

There's no bed like home

These our actors as I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air. We are such stuff as dreams are made of and our little life is rounded with a sleep.

Apparently there are 125 identical bedrooms in the hotel where I've lived for most of the last year. There are always 5 pillows: Two soft ones, two firmer ones and a stupid little red one, which serves a purely decorative purpose. There's an ironing board, iron, hairdryer and kettle. There's a writing desk. There's a sofa. There are reading lights which shine directly into your eyes if you don't take the time to move them away from the position they're always left in by the housekeepers. There's a plug in the sink that always need to be pulled out and set aside, otherwise the water won't be able to drain away properly when you wash your hands. There are small pieces of information throughout the room that tell me that I can choose whichever pillows I find comfiest, that there's a place to charge my phone by my bed, and various things that tell me how much they [the hotel] cares about my stay. A place for everything and everything in its place.

How many IKEA beds have I owned? How many have I destroyed? How many have I slept in without mishap? How many times have I found myself discovering that IKEA mattresses are different from the standard UK sizes of double and king-size? How many times have I struggled to squeeze an IKEA mattress into a non-IKEA fitted sheet?

How many different beds have I slept in, during the past 5 years?

I can tell you everything about every kind of bed you're likely to encounter in the National Health Service. There are the beds in the crisis houses and psychiatric wards. There are the beds in ordinary hospital wards. There are the beds in intensive care and high dependency wards. I can tell you how to make yourself comfortable in places where somebody will shine a torch in your face every 15 to 30 minutes at night. I can tell you how to make yourself comfortable somewhere that your blood pressure, body temperature and blood oxygen saturation is being measured every hour. I can tell you how to make yourself comfortable when you have 5 canulas, a catheter and a massive femoral veinous catheter in your groin, which literally has taps you can just twist when you want to empty all the blood out of your body.

I can tell you everything about every kind of bed you're likely to encounter in a hostel full of homeless people. I can tell you about bed bugs and other human parasites. I can tell you about snoring. I can tell you about being in a room with 13 people in various states of drink and drug intoxication, and with the entire spectrum of mental health problems. I can tell you what it's like to realise that somebody rummaged under your pillow, stole your wallet, removed the cash, and replaced it back where they took it from, while you were asleep. I can tell you what it's like to have your bags regularly rummaged through in search of anything valuable. I can tell you what it's like to live for more than a year like that, with no fixed dormitory, no fixed bunk... to get woken up at 8am and told that you've got to move to another room, with another bunch of seemingly randomly-selected people who you'll be spending an unknown number of nights with.

After a while it gets tiresome.

Eventually, you figure out that when you sleep rough, if you're smart about it, then you can stay away from other homeless people, drunks, muggers, rapists and anybody who fancies doing pretty much whatever they want to you at 4:30am, because it's dark and nobody's around. Eventually, you figure out that you can have more consistency and control over your life if you find yourself some bushes or an overgrown back garden of an empty house to set up camp in. You get used to the noise of the dog walkers and the joggers. You get used to the noise of the commuters. You get used to the noise of the students and the tourists. You get used to the do-gooders, who will make their rounds to check on the junkies and the alcoholics, who cluster together in obvious places. You get used to the official-looking vehicles with their headlights, and the people wearing uniforms with their torches. You start to realise that they have absolutely no idea that you exist, because you are so inconspicuous and under their radar.

Then, you decide that it'd be nice to return to civilised society. You get a bit old to be sleeping rough. It seems somehow shameful, to reach a certain age and have dropped out.

So, you rent a series of dreadful places to live. Each one of those places has a dreadful bed: A bottom-of-the-range IKEA bed with a mattress which doesn't quite fit and slats which randomly fall off their supports, causing part of the bed to collapse unexpectedly; mattresses with a range of stains in varying hues indicating, shit, piss, vomit and blood... as well as perhaps some food stains.

You buy your own IKEA brand-new furniture, and you buy slightly better quality stuff. You buy the bed sheets that are the right size to fit, because you know exactly what size mattress you've bought. You buy a the right size mattress for the bed frame.

Then, you have to move.

How many times have I had to move?

Every time I move, I have to leave the bed behind, because I throw away the old terrible bed, which was unfit as anything more than set-dressing for a property that's being rented out as "furnished". Where would I store a shitty old bed? Where would I store a shitty old mattress? It would cost me more in storage costs, and the transportation costs of moving the shitty bed out and back, than it costs me to simply leave the replacement beds behind.

How many IKEA flat-packs have I assembled and how many have I destroyed?

How many times have I flopped down onto a newly assembled bed, exhausted?

How many times have I had to abandon any attempts at nest-making, because I have to choose my battles carefully?

It might sound like I'm sloppy, careless and perhaps have little respect for the expense and environmental impact of treating material possessions as so disposable. However, none of this stuff disappears. The problem is, that there's no shortage of supply of mattresses covered with blood, piss, sick and vomit stains. There's no shortage of damaged bed frames which do not sturdily support the bed's occupants.

What you have to understand is that I have to prioritise my survival, ahead of the pleasant choices that normal happy healthy stable people get to make. I don't choose to change my bed because I'm remodelling my bedroom. I'm not in the business of doing interior decoration for aesthetic purposes. I don't choose the colour of the paint on my walls. I don't choose my curtains. I've been grateful to have the comfort of a thin foam mattress, in a hostel dorm, on a bunk bed. I've been grateful if my bunk has happened to be close to a power socket so I can charge my phone. I've been grateful if my bunk has been near a window, so I can enjoy the ventilation. I've been grateful if my bunk has been away from the dorm entrance/exit, so people can enter and leave without disturbing me. I've been grateful if I'm not sharing a dorm with dickheads who get up at 5am and start noisily rummaging in their bags, or people with severe mental illness who have unpredictable outbursts just at the moment when you're falling asleep.

What you have to understand is that every different bed I sleep in is slightly different. There might be a family deciding to have an argument in the hotel corridor at 6am. There might be a central heating system where the pipes creak and clang at unusual times. There might be a car alarm that decides to go off all night long. There might be a fire alarm. There might be heavy traffic in the morning and evening commuter rush. There might be patients on a psych ward who want to watch TV at full volume at 7am. There might be patients on a psych ward who are kicking off, and having to be restrained, sedated and moved to 'safe seclusion', which is the modern version of a padded soundproof cell.

What you have to understand is that every bed I sleep in has a different 'vibe' in terms of how private it feels. Ground-floor bedrooms are strange to me, especially when the window coverings - blinds and curtains - aren't very good. Can people hear me masturbating? Can people see me sleeping? How much privacy do I really have? I've spent a substantial time in places where there are observation windows which can be opened by staff members, to check on the room occupant. I've spent a substantial amount of time in places where the furniture is heavy, indestructible and even bolted to the floor. I've spent a substantial amount of time where the windows don't open more than a few inches and have bars on them, and the mirrors are made out of plastic - places designed to be safe places for the care of vulnerable sick people.

Those places have been my home.

I'm about to get the keys to have a house that has 4 bedrooms, 3 reception rooms, 2 bathrooms, a garden and a shed. It's all for me. It's a blank canvas.

If I had the money, I'd have it painted.

If I had the money, I'd buy the furniture I wanted.

If I had the money, I'd buy rugs and lamps, and curtains and coffee tables and occasional tables, and a dining table and chairs and a breakfast bar and bookcases and wardrobes and chests-of-drawers and sideboards and cabinets and desks and organiser systems, where all my stuff could be neatly hidden out of view in little boxes - a place for everything and everything in its place.

If I had the money, I'd just grab the IKEA catalogue and order everything in the rooms, exactly like their designers have displayed them.

It won't be long now.

Soon, I'll have a buttload of money.

But. It's been a long journey, and some really shitty stuff has happened, like my kidneys failing.

So, I'm about to have my millionth billionth IKEA bed, and there's nothing new or novel about it. I've bought the most basic model, with plans to upgrade in future, when I can afford it. I will continue to live out of suitcases, in a house which could comfortably accomodate 2 adults and 4 children. In fact, when I have friends with kids visiting, my house should provide comfort for perhaps 3/4 adults and 2/3 children, plus 0/1 dogs.

Sorry for going on about it, but it's been a helluva journey.

Imagine all those homeless people I met when I was sleeping rough. Imagine all those people who I met when I was sleeping in those hostels. I was just like them: No money, drink problems, drug problems and mental health problems, along with the accompanying police problems.

Imagine all those people who've seen me have false-starts and almost-but-not-quite get my shit together. Imagine how much they want me to succeed. Imagine how many people I've got rooting for me, because it's supposed to be true: It's supposed to be true that we can drag ourselves out of the gutter to become rich and successful, if we work hard enough. If I can do it, can you imagine how pleased all the people - the lifelong friends I made - will be to see me doing well. I owe it to them to aim higher than sleeping inconspicuously in a bush. I owe it to them to be one of the success stories that we're told about, but in reality don't really seem to exist.

I'm pulling an incredibly high-risk manoeuvre, to get myself into a special place. What would be the point of all the hard work, suffering, deprivation and disappointment, if all it resulted in was a totally mediocre end result?  That's not a very inspiring story for my friends who've suffered disproportionately badly at the hands of fate. How awful it would be for those people who had next-to-nothing - like we all did - to see the golden boy smashed to smithereens and getting absolutely nowhere in life. Why bother, if there's no chance of a better life? Why bother, if there's no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

My actions might seem to have a hint of profligacy to them, and indeed some showmanship and insecure vulgar displays of wealth, but I assure you that if I was such a fool as to simply want to flaunt the fact that I can get rich 'quick' when I need to, I would simply purchase a highly desirable sports-car with a car loan, and rent the most extravagant city centre penthouse I could find, and then flaunt my materialistic lifestyle in Instagram, which would be most vulgar, crude and an insult to every value that a hard working person has.

You also have to remember that my self-esteem was very badly damaged by those years when I was sick, vulnerable and virtually penniless. Psychologically, I do not want to be living with daily reminders that I screwed up my life. For me to feel as though I've left that unfortunate period of my life behind me, it's important that I'm not dragging around 'baggage' which continuously reminds me of what might have been if only I hadn't gotten sick. I think it's a worthwhile investment, to spend a relatively small amount of cash on a home which makes me feel like I'm starting to live the life I always wanted; picking up my life again as if there was no interruption.

If you detect a hint of entitlement then you're probably not mistaken. It's my firmly held belief that hard work should result in commensurate rewards. It's my unshakeable opinion that those who have known suffering and deprivation should not suffer prejudice and disadvantages because of those misfortunes.

If we believe in a fair and just world, where hard work and dedication will allow anybody to achieve their dreams, then we must surely also believe that it's OK for my life to be good... perhaps even enviably good; desirable. Isn't it a good thing that my friends might look at me and say: He's done well and there are some parts of his life that I would like to have for myself. Isn't it a good thing that my friends who never quite escaped the life of sleeping rough, hostels and bedsits, can see that one of their own - a man ruined by divorce, drink, drugs, debt and mental health problems - could clean himself up and return to civilised society, and prosper?

If this piece has a boastful tone, I apologise. If this piece seems premature, given the amount of hard work that still lies ahead, you'd be right to caution me against complacency. If this piece is too much about me, and not enough about those who get left behind, abandoned by society, those criticisms are valid.

As it stands, I've lined up my ducks, but the journey hasn't even started yet. My bed is still in pieces in an IKEA warehouse, with my mattress rolled up tightly in the plastic which it will be delivered in. The task still remains outstanding for me: to assemble my bed, or else sleep on the floor, provided I manage to even get the keys to this dream home without a hitch, which I presently don't have enough money to be able to afford.

 

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I'm Going On A Date

12 min read

This is a story about rushing things...

Packed boxes

I never really fully recovered after getting sick, following my close friend's funeral, which required a huge round-trip across the country. That was a really terrible week, which started with me having to break up with my girlfriend, because she wasn't being very pleasant or supportive at a time when I needed to get me, my suit, my black tie and other funeral-suitable attire to a crematorium hundreds of miles away.

I had to break up with that girlfriend, because my attendance of my close friend's funeral was being jeopardised.

That was a few weeks ago.

I have something else that was being jeopardised: My shelter; my housing security.

I suppose I could have extended my rental contract, but the place was nowhere near my workplace and therefore completely impractical. I'm struggling to cope, even though I've made smart choices to ease the burden on myself, such as staying in a hotel close to my office. If I was to commute from the current home I'm renting, it would add a 3 hours of travelling onto my day, every single day weekday. That's exhausting and pointless.

So, I guess I knew that sooner or later I was going to have to move. The clock was ticking.

It made me very anxious, knowing that there was a day when my contract would simply expire and I would no longer have any legal right to continue to occupy the place I'd called home for a year. Squatters have lost most of their legal rights over the years, and I need to be a squeaky-clean citizen anyway, because of the nature of my work: I'm expected to comply with a much more stringent code of conduct and set of behavioural guidelines, than the vast majority of people - with great power comes great responsibility.

I had back-slid into that toxic relationship after I got sick. Once my friend's funeral was out of the way, I was back home, but I was vulnerable. She cyber-stalked me and found my address. She turned up and I let her in, because I was sick in so many ways. I was physically sick with diarrhoea and vomiting, and I was emotionally sick from the recent funeral of a close friend. I was weak, she turned up and I let her in.

Fast forward to Valentine's day and I had viewed a beautiful house that I wanted to rent and the landlord had agreed to accept my tenancy. I had a house to move to. I had housing security. I had some guarantee of shelter.

She wasn't very happy for me.

In fact, she told me to get out at 11pm, when I was trying to get enough sleep to go to work in the morning. I said it was unreasonable, and that I would leave in the morning. She escalated things. It was unpleasant and unnecessary, but I was not surprised: The relationship was toxic and I had resolved to try to make my escape as soon as I could. I spent the night in a hotel.

I boxed up my belongings and made my current place more presentable, so that it could be more easily rented out. I was getting my ducks in a row, so to speak, in order to keep working my full-time job AND move house. If I don't work I don't get paid, and moving house is expensive.

I thought I wasn't going be able to move for weeks and weeks.

I hate waiting.

Now, I have a date.

I will be leaving on specific date, to start my new life in a new city - a city where I've never lived before.

I bought some furniture today and arranged for it to be delivered soon after I get the keys to my new house. I still need to buy a washer/dryer and have my broadband moved, as well as renting a van or organising a removals firm to help me shift all my stuff from one city to another: Probably the best part of 2 hours drive away, in a fully-loaded truck.

I'm going on a date. That is to say, I'm going to start my new life on a specific date. I can start to look forward to that date. I can start to dream about what it's going to be like living in the beautiful house I've rented.

I've swept problems out of the way. I've refused to allow anyone or anything sabotage my plans to maintain a secure roof over my head. It was the right thing to do: To leave the girlfriend who was jeopardising the holiday I needed, jeopardising my attendance of my close friend's funeral, jeopardising my chances of finding a beautiful new home, jeopardising the stability I need - to keep working my job - while going through an incredibly tough stressful time.

Moving house is hell. Moving to an unfamiliar city is double hell. Moving with the clock ticking down, and nobody supporting me practically - actually packing, moving boxes and assembling flat-pack furniture - is triple hell.

I expect I'll probably start dating again once I'm settled in my new house, but it's low down on my list of priorities right now. Going on a date is the last thing I want to do, when all I can think about is the date when I'm going to get the keys to my new house.

I've brought the move date much sooner, because there's no point in me living in an expensive hotel when I'll soon have a whole massive house to live in. I'm so happy. It's such a relief to have secured a roof over my head. It gives me such an important sense of security, to know that I'm going to have a house that actually suits my needs, and I've managed to extricate myself from a toxic relationship that so often jeopardised the things that I need and I've worked so hard to get.

Already, friends have been getting in contact to arrange to come and visit me. I was overjoyed when a beloved Twitter follower - who I've never met in person - mentioned they might drop in on me for a cup of tea if they're in the area. I've got the opportunity to accomodate my friends and their children as my guests, because I've been lucky enough to rent a huge house.

I adore company and I love to entertain guests, but the place where I was living was a little too far away from London, where most of my friends are, and it was also even too far from places like Bristol, Somerset and Dorset, where I still have a lot of long-neglected friends.

Most of my friends now seem to have children, and I do think that little people are wonderful, even though I've been careful not to spawn any of my own with the wrong person... so I find myself in the enviable position of having the best of all worlds: I will have a large house, which will comfortably hold me and my guests, without it being any trouble at all... in fact, it'll be a joyful thing to have my house filled with life and the noises of habitation. I live a bit like a monastic monk and I wouldn't have any face-to-face interactions or 'normal' human experiences, if it wasn't for things like my day job. Nobody at work really knows the extent of my isolation; my vulnerability.

I moved to Manchester, and that was disastrous and very nearly killed me, quite literally. When my kidneys failed in 2017 and I was on a high-dependency ward, my wonderful then-girlfriend (the one who got away) arranged for me to have lots of visitors, and she was incredibly attentive and supportive. She was my rock. When my heart was broken and I was virtually bankrupt, in central Manchester, where I had no friends or family anywhere within a hundred miles, at least, it was an easy decision to kill myself. I very nearly succeeded, but for the incredible work of the resus and intensive care medical teams at Manchester Royal Infirmary, and the emergency services who got me to hospital so quickly, thanks to strangers on the internet raising the alarm.

I'm moving to Cardiff, which I shouldn't really mention because I risk being positively identified by my colleagues and people whose job it is to vet and monitor employees who have access to highly sensitive information, who might not think it's a wise idea to expose myself so publicly.

However, I'm rushing and I'm stressed and I'm tired and I'm sick and I'm terribly alone, except for the huge group of friends I have across the globe. My work colleagues are lovely, but for the sake of my career, I try to hide my mental illness and personal life struggles. I have a very serious psychiatric mood disorder, which has caused dreadful destruction to my life in the past, so I work very hard to protect my hard-won stability. Anybody who jeopardises my future happiness and security is given short shrift, hence my toxic ex got the boot on Valentine's day, which was only a day earlier than planned anyway... it just seemed heartless to break up with her on a day that has heaps of societal expectation pressure placed upon it.

So, I move to Cardiff on my own - single - which is sort of overwhelming, but at the same time it's such an unbelievably good opportunity to get all the things I need in my life, such as a secure home in a city where I can easily commute to a job which is going well, and maintain as much stability as I can.

As you can tell by the volume of text which I'm writing, and my flurry of social media activity, I've been triggered into a state of mania by the combined recent events and cluster-fuck of stresses placed upon me.

I'll be OK.

I'll just be nimble and quick.

I'll dodge my way around the people who would otherwise sabotage me and the things I work hard to make happen.

I'll cut toxic people out of my life without a second thought. I've fought too hard to get what I've got, so I'm not going to allow myself to be coerced, controlled or forced to live with oppressive insecurity and unnecessary aggravation, when I work so damn hard to ensure that stressful and difficult things happen, with smooth sailing.

I'm single, but no dates for me. I'd be rushing things too much.

Of course, I'm about to get the keys to a gorgeous huge house that I can fill with beautiful things that I hand-picked. Of course, it'd be wonderful to have the comfort and security of a partner to share that with, but if I have to do it on my own, I choose that every time even though it's difficult, because being a good partner means being supportive and making a better life together. If you threaten to sabotage the important things in my life, you'll be shown the door... sorry.

Perhaps I'm just a washed-up middle-aged nobody, with nothing to offer. Perhaps I should be feeling insecure, but I don't. I'm filled up with excitement about all the future possibilities, even though I'm a bit sick, very manic and I've got some awfully exhausting and stressful stuff to get through, which will be incredibly destabilising.

I'm planning on basing my stability on a few simple things: my daily routine, my job (which I'm really good at) and my excellent relationship with my colleagues, and a secure financial and housing situation. The safety net that allows me to do my high-wire act alone is my vast number of friends who I'm in contact with all over the world, who have my back, although I can reassure them that this move is not one of heartbreak and shameful defeat, like the time I had to leave my beloved London home, to take a shitty job in Manchester, and live in a shitty apartment.

I'm going on a date. I'm going from Swansea to Cardiff on a specific date. I know the exact date when I get my keys and I become a resident of a city that I chose to live in... this move is not driven by desperation, this time, and I get good vibes about the place. I still can't quite believe that I can afford to rent such a massive house in an amazing location... but that's Wales, it seems. Wales is my birthplace and the country seems pleased to have me back. Things have gone my way since I came back. Things have gone well, mostly.

Anyway, sorry for the manic rant, but that's what's happening in my world. I expect I'll be blathering on about it for a while, because it's part of the foundation of the stable happy new life I'm building for myself. It's incredibly satisfying to see real tangible progress towards the life I want, when I was so close to death so many times, and I was in every kind of trouble you can imagine: Debts, drugs and abandonment. For a while, my life revolved around hospitals, police stations, psych wards, hostels and sleeping rough.

If I pull this off and manage to get myself stable again, I really feel like I can hang onto things this time. Dating can wait. I feel like I've got so much to offer, so there's no rush.

 

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I'm a Lucky Guy

5 min read

This is a story about a charmed existence...

Lounge

Despite much whinging and complaining about the anxiety being caused by house-hunting and the difficulty of getting through all the vetting procedures, credit checks, references and suchlike, I have managed to secure myself a lovely big house to live in.

The house is unfurnished.

This isn't even my furniture.

I stole the photograph from the rental agent's website.

However.

Wherever I go in the world, I have friends. Even though I hardly know anybody in the city where I currently live, or the city where I'm moving to, or the city where I work, I will always have friends. Why? Because I have so many people who care about me in the world. I'm such a lucky guy that my lovely global friends write to me, leave me lovely comments on my blog, or even just leave a little 'heart' on something I've written.

I know that some people might feel like social media, blogging and the internet in general is a virtual reality. In their mind's eye, the internet is populated with shy introverts, who never speak to each other and never make meaningful lifelong friendships. They're wrong.

A huge percentage - the vast majority - of my friendships began online, and then progressed to meeting in person and staying in touch regularly. My best friends and those who've been there for me through thick and thin, in times of darkness and in times of light... those friends almost all originated from the internet.

Whether those friendships were made via dial-up internet bulletin boards (BBS), discussion forums, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or whatever social media is presently popular, is a complete irrelevance. Whether or not those friendships were first initiated using the communication medium of the internet, as opposed to a chance face-to-face meeting, is irrelevant.

I started making a list of all the people who've given me significant support during some very difficult years of my life, and the more I kept digging though the archives of the internet, the more amazed I was at how many names there were on the list.

I started trying to mention some of those people on Twitter, to thank them for being such great friends. As I sent out the Tweets I'd keep realising that there was somebody who'd perhaps gone quiet for a little while, and I hadn't been in touch with recently. Everybody I mentioned has been a hugely supportive, kind and caring friend.

I started to realise it was almost impossible for me catalogue and give thanks to everybody. How can I rank the contribution of my friends, to improving - and in some cases saving - my life? How can I even begin to comprehend just how many people I've been lucky enough to connect with, in a meaningful way, such that we could talk just like we'd known each other our whole lives?

How can I be sure I didn't miss anybody? For sure, I have more friends than my brain can cope with, which is an amazingly nice situation to be in.

The internet is an incredible thing, but it's the aggregate value of all those wonderful people that makes it so amazing. The global reach of the internet means I have friends on every continent. It feels like wherever I go in the world, I'll always have a friend.

I'm moving to a city I've never lived in before. I don't really have any friends there. I don't know my way around.

That's scary.

But, wherever I go, I have my connection to an entire world of wonderful friends, who will support me along the way. Sure, some of them live too far away to help me unload my moving truck and unpack my boxes. Sure, some of them live so far away that they're unlikely to be able to drop in for a housewarming party. However, it's an immense comfort, especially during unsettling and stressful times, to have the wonderful luck of having so many friends in the world.

I'm not sure why I put up that picture of a house which doesn't even contain any furniture.

I'm not sure if I'm insecure, and I want you to see that I'm at least going to be living somewhere nice, once I've bought some furniture and moved in.

I also wanted to share that picture, because you're all moving in there with me, because you move everywhere with me. You moved from London to Manchester with me, you moved from Manchester to Swansea with me, you moved from Swansea to Newport with me and now you're moving from Newport to Cardiff with me. You were with me when I was in all those new cities. You were with me when I was living all on my own in that hotel room, out of a suitcase, for so many months.

I'm lucky to have so many friends who go with me wherever I go. I'm lucky to have friends in every time zone, so I can speak to somebody at any hour of the day. I'm lucky to have turned so-called 'virtual' friendships into lifelong friendships, where we speak regularly on the phone, and we are intimately involved in each other's lives.

I'm grateful. Without your help, I wouldn't have made it this far. Without your help I'd have died in Manchester. Without your help, I'd have been too anxious and depressed to get through the difficult things I've been through: To move to strange new cities, start new jobs and find new places to live. Without your help, all those lonely nights living out of a suitcase in a hotel would have been unbearable.

Thank you, my far-flung friends.

 

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