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

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nick@manicgrant.com

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Infamy

3 min read

This is a story about wanting to be noticed...

Why I write

This is not a pity party, and everyone has an equally valid claim to misery and depression, but it's important - to me - that I relate this part of the most influential period of my life.

At home, I could do nothing right, and was largely ignored other than as an ornament; a clothes horse; a performing animal, let out of its cage to delight the adults, as a party trick, and otherwise told to be quiet and keep out of the way.This, I think, is not unusual, but was greatly exacerbated my lack of a sibling until the age of 10, and my parents' extreme anti-social behaviour, which left me isolated in the extreme: often in very remote rural areas; far from friends and schoolmates.

At school, I could not avoid attention of the wrong kind. My parents' obsession with training me as their performing animal, for their party tricks, meant that I was either alone, or doing my routine for adults. I had no relationships with children, before school. If you want to fuck up your children and ruin their lives, it's quite easy: do everything in your power to make them different so that they don't fit in; deprive them of every opportunity to socialise; force them to act like little adults, instead of allowing them to be children - that will guarantee that they won't fit in at all at school, and they will be bullied from dawn to dusk, every. single. fucking. day.

Good manners and confidence in the company of adults did, briefly, confer an advantage in the workplace. This supposed 'maturity' was useful for making a good first impression. Employers certainly mistook me for a person who was mature beyond their years, but this was entirely superficial: a party trick learned, because it was the only way I was able to receive praise as a child - from the small amount of adult company my parents kept; those rare occasions when I was trotted out and expected to perform. However, I had no maturity at all - the social isolation, the neglect and the deprivation, was masked and hidden behind impeccable manners and precise diction; expansive vocabulary, learned from books.

As life has worn on, my age relative to my peers has become less obvious, less remarkable. Instead, those deep wounds inflicted in childhood have come to the fore. Exacerbated by extreme stress and intolerable circumstances, the socially isolated child, deprived of a social life and otherwise ill-equipped to face the world with the same skills and experience of his peers, has resurfaced. I feel as though I'm suffering the same horrors again.

In extreme circumstances, we revert to 'type'... our 'true' personality surfaces, and our mask slips.

I wonder to myself, as I write stuff which is read by thousands of people who are suffering a life-and-death crisis in their lives, whether I am flirting with infamy. Why do I not implore them to seek professional help and bombard them with crisis counselling phone numbers?

Maybe I'm evil.

[Note: I lost a few hundred words here, because of an auto-save glitch, but I can't be bothered to re-type what I wrote. I hope it still makes sense without the conclusion, as I originally wrote it]

 

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Aide-Mémoire

4 min read

This is a story about writing prompts...

Book

During a more exciting and varied, but also chaotic period of my life, I habitually made a note of writing prompts for myself. I was able to stay somewhat on top of these sparks of inspiration, and turn them into essays, but the list still grew longer and longer.

I've started writing a list of writing prompts again. Currently it has 10 items on it, which have inspired me to write 3 completed essays, which I've now published.

The other thing which inspires me to write, I must admit, is my readers. My readers write to me, which I'm very grateful for, but even those who do not are inspiring me by reading, because there's nothing worse than feeling ignored, irrelevant or otherwise non-existent. However, there's also a temptation - which I try to avoid - of writing stuff which I know will bring me more readers. What's the point of making art, if you're doing it just for popularity and notoriety - surely that isn't art at all?

The majority of my readers - thousands per day - are new readers. Perhaps [most of] my social media followers and [most] friends have tired of the repetitive nature of my writing; the repetition of my story; the lack of any dramatic change in my circumstances. There isn't much narrative in my writing, because there isn't much narrative in my life. In the adventures of employee man, one day looks very much like the next.

Of course, I am grateful that I have a semi-secure source of income - albeit only in the short term - and I have stability and routine. My health and wealth are thriving, relatively speaking, thanks to the boring repetition which is the backbone of my life.

Perhaps I'll dig some more hair-raising tales of near-death and destitution out of my memory banks, to amuse and entertain my readers, but I did promise myself that I wouldn't dwell on the past, and I would attempt to start a new chapter. I would very much like it if I had a substantial period of boring "this is what I ate for breakfast" type typical run-of-the-mill yawnfest blog vapid bullshit, to put some distance between the chaotic, traumatic and nearly fatal period of my life, and the stable, secure life which seems within touching distance; tantalisingly close.

It feels a little odd to not be in the mood to write, because of low social media engagement, given that I almost exclusively transmit - never receive - and otherwise do not engage myself in discourse; do not engage with the community; do not socialise on social media, per se. A cynical accusation that I want to take, but I never give, could be levelled at me, and I would have little defence; I admit that I don't spend a lot of time keeping up with the lives of my Twitter friends, although I am extremely grateful for their continued support, and the occasional message or cat pic.

Also, I'm a little burnt out. I've been working very hard on a demanding project, and I'm extremely emotionally invested; I've been working with maximum intensity. In addition, of course, I pour my guts out every day onto the pages of this website. Writing and publishing a halfway-decent essay every day is not trivial. Those who say I'm not generous with my time and effort, are being unnecessarily cruel and unkind, if not downright wrong.

I'm not out in the community helping little old grannies cross the road or picking up litter, but people do write to me from all around the world every day, to say that my writing has been helpful - in some way - to them. I'm not saying that what I'm doing is particularly praiseworthy, or patting myself on the back in general, but I do put a lot of effort in, and that effort is not entirely a fool's errand.

Anyway, that was today's essay. I hope you liked it. Even just a teeny tiny bit.

 

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Virtue Signalling

4 min read

This is a story about Twitter boycotts...

Why so sad?

A loathsome gammon was abusing me on Facebook for anti-racist, anti-transphobic things that I was saying. I was accused of virtue signalling which is a ridiculous charge, when the very basic minimum of human decency is to not be racist, homophobic, transphobic or otherwise persecutory towards minorities. Sure, if I was lecturing people - unsolicited - on why they shouldn't eat red meat, and boasting about what a fine person I am for being vegan, then it would be possibly a bit much, but no... I was just sharing some very non-contentions opinions about the notorious transphobe, J. K. Rowling, and otherwise anti-racist sentiment; nothing that should have drawn a vicious personal attack.

Anyway, I need to break my routine for a couple of days and not post this on Twitter.

Why?

Well, it's not because of virtue signalling.

I'm aware that there's a widespread movement to boycott Twitter for 48 hours, in protest at the length of time it took Twitter to remove anti-Semitic content and instate a temporary ban on the account involved. It's not virtue signalling to see something abhorrent taking place, and take action against it. It's not virtue signalling, to call out hate speech, for example. It's not virtue signalling to agree that we need to be anti-racist and to eradicate anti-Semitism wherever we see it. It's not virtue signalling to participate in civilised society, where we all have a duty to police hateful extremism. Hate speech is not OK, but criticising racists, bigoted people, is more than OK; it's encouraged to criticise the hateful extremists.

I'm aware that there are lots of fads which people get swept up with, like when everyone was posting plain black photos as part of a social media 'blackout' but I fail to see how it's negative or otherwise worthy of criticism. Of course, if the only aim and objective is to appear to empathise with the plight of an oppressed minority, then it's a bit pathetic, but it's better than being silent or ignoring the world around us. I'd rather be criticised for a rather pathetically easy gesture, such as not tweeting for 48 hours, than be amongst the racist bigoted bunch.

If you see virtue in my actions, and you think I'm signalling, tough titties. It's perfectly possible that you see virtue because there is virtue there to be seen. Shouldn't we be aspiring - as a human race - to be more virtuous anyway? Why would you celebrate those without virtue? Why is it a good thing to be barbaric and uncivilised? Why would you think that unvirtuous behaviour is desirable?

Donating a tiny fraction of my wealth to charity, or doing something fun that I was going to do anyway, but sponsored, is something that many people do in order to salve their conscience. Because of said acts of charity, we can feel that we're doing something to address the horrendous inequalities in the world... but it's not true. Charitable giving benefits the giver... charities have proven to be completely ineffective at bringing about any meaningful change in the world; they're an abysmal failure. However, those who give charitably and those who work for charities are trying at least; their intentions are good, even if the main beneficiary is themselves, because they can feel smug and comfortable about their contribution, even though it's ineffective and often downright counter-productive. I approve of the sentiment, even if it's misguided.

Nothing will ever change for the better because of a Twitter boycott, but that's not a reason not to take part.

 

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I Can't Afford to Dream

3 min read

This is a story about being stuck in a hole...

Concrete beds

Why did I get so angry and upset yesterday over something so seemingly trivial? I think I'm exhausted from 3 years of uninterrupted hard work, stress and struggle. I've been battling to dig myself out of the hole I'm in, so I certainly haven't had the opportunity to dream.

For those people who are surrounded by their friends and family, comfortably in their routine: paying their mortgages, kissing their husbands/wives and kids good night, working their steady jobs, stuffing money into their sizeable savings accounts and pensions... those people can dream, because they're in a position of security and stability. Their lives are predictable, so they're able to dream. Of course, they are somewhat trapped by domestic bliss, so they kinda have to dream, because it's unthinkable that they would ever cut loose from their comfortable lives... but also, they know they really don't want to have a life of stress and insecurity like I have.

"What do you want to do with your life?" people ask me. A seemingly innocent question, but it's not. The question presupposes that I have any choice, when I obviously do not. My choices are between what I have to do - I'm forced to do - or death. Well, perhaps not immediate death, but in fact a much, much worse death.

If I don't do what I have to do, then bankruptcy, eviction, destitution and exclusion from society swiftly follow: I'll be a homeless tramp, unable to get a job, unable to rent a place to live, unable to do anything, except die from the loss of dignity and the harshness of homelessness and sleeping rough.

I'm creditworthy, so of course I could get into heaps of debt, pretending like I'm able to live a certain lifestyle without consequences. That seems to be what students do in the UK, where tuition fees are £27,000 and maintenance loans add another £30,000... £57,000 of debt, living a lifestyle you can't afford; putting off today's problems until tomorrow. I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to get myself into that much debt.

There's no point dreaming until I've got the money to pay for those dreams.

Sure, you go ahead and have your dreams. You can afford to dream. Even if you can't ditch your husband/wife, kids, mortgage and job, you can still dream, and it's harmless. You can dream about getting a new kitchen or bathroom. You can dream about re-carpeting your hallway. You can dream about whatever you want, because you're in a position of wealth and privilege; security.

My dream consists of getting enough financial security to be able to afford a nervous breakdown without capitalism destroying me; killing me.

 

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Habit

4 min read

This is a story about routine...

Laptops

Despite the chaotic - and often traumatic - backdrop to my life, during the past 5 years... I have still managed to write on a very regular basis. I've written from a hospital bed on multiple occasions. I've written from a psychiatric ward on multiple occasions. I've written when I've been dreadfully sick - both physically and mentally - and I've documented the path I've taken, from near-bankruptcy and destitution, to stability.

It might not look very healthy, but it is - my writing is a healthy habit.

I skipped writing over the weekend because I was busy. That's OK. I'm allowing myself to skip the occasional day when I'm busy. I'm not going to force myself to write every single day, without fail.

I have decided that I need to get into the habit of writing fewer than 700 words - it's a limit which forces me to be a bit more focussed on what I want to say, and discourages me from aimlessly rambling. Given that I mostly just write my stream-of-consciousness, it makes sense to create an artificial limit, because my thoughts are unending.

As I have repeated oftentimes before - ad nauseam - I am aiming to try to be more forward-looking, and to not dwell in bitterness and regret from the past; to not wallow in my life's misfortunes and my shitty childhood.

I can tell you for certain that I WILL NOT be writing any kind of "things I'm grateful for" vomit-worthy rubbish. Of course I have things I'm grateful for, and I have a great deal of perspective - I know I'm fortunate in many ways - so I don't need or want to have to write down all those things; it's pretty boring.

I'm glad that my skin isn't all peeled off and dipped in salt and acid. I'm grateful my eyes haven't been gouged out by rusty spoons. I'm grateful that my penis hasn't been cut off and stuffed in my mouth...

No.

I spend a significant proportion of my day reading the news, and whenever I see starving African children - etc - then I think "poor starving African children. We should improve the living conditions for human beings". I do not think "I'm glad I'm not a starving African child" because that's just sociopathic. Obviously it's better not to be a starving African child, but I'm afraid I'm cursed with enough empathy to think "we should improve things" as opposed to "I'm so grateful other people's lives are so shitty".

My routine consists of lying in bed reading the news, a shower, feeding the cat, reading the news, catching up on anything I missed at work, reading the news, work, meetings, reading the news, work, lunch, reading the news, work, meetings, work, reading the news, writing, dinner, reading the news, speaking to friends on the phone, watching documentaries about human suffering, social media, sleep... repeat.

As you can see, I read a lot of news.

I do not watch any TV.

I'm certain that I would be happier if I replaced some of that news reading with socialising, but my routine is predictable and somewhat in my control. The only thing I can't control is the human suffering which I see in the news, but I do care and I do what I can - from the confines of my routine - to improve the lives of humanity. Mostly, I do a lot of thinking about the suffering of humanity, but don't mistake me for somebody who doesn't care and doesn't do anything. The emotional labour is exhausting; the mental labour is exhausting. This shouldn't be underestimated.

Of course I want to change my routine. I want to exercise more. I want to socialise more. I want more excitement; variety. However, the routine gives me a great deal of stability, and the stability gives me health and wealth. Stability is very important to me, having had so many years of chaos and trauma.

My routine is important.

 

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Something to Take the Edge Off

5 min read

This is a story about crutches...

Office chair

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Blogger's Digest - Day Twelve of #NaNoWriMo2019

9 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 Twelve

Moored up in a marina near Porto in Northern Portugal, I bid farewell to Ian. Porto was an ideal place for him to depart, with an international airport so he could get home and new crew from the UK could easily join me, whenever they were available.

I felt much more confident and comfortable asking inexperienced friends to help me on this coast-hugging part of the journey, which aimed to get from Porto to Lisbon. Although the route would sail right past the biggest waves in Europe, at Nazaré, the swells were settling down during summer. I felt happy that I could safely get into and out of the rivers, lagoons and other natural harbours, which would provide safe anchorage overnight, or in the event of bad weather. There was no more need for night sailing and to have at least two competent skippers on board, taking turns at the helm.

Having reached a third country, passing France and Spain, was a huge psychological boost and it enthused my friends who had been following my progress. I had lots of promises from people that they would fly out over the summer to help at various points during the journey.

The offshore sailing across the Bay of Biscay had been every bit as unpleasant as I feared it would be, and so I was glad to be safely moored up in a marina, and able to go ashore whenever I wanted, by simply stepping off the pontoon. I decided to take the opportunity for some tourism, having never visited Porto before.

Solo travelling was something that never appealed to me; it was something I'd never done. As I'd not taken a gap year before or after university, and had then quickly found my way into a lucrative career, backpacking and hostelling had never been a financial necessity - I had always been able to afford to stay in nice hotels, wherever I went. Perhaps my life would have been enriched by those experiences, but I had plenty of communal living experience during my student days, staying in chalets when skiing, and of course when doing sailing trips with every berth filled, when living quarters were particularly cramped.

My Portuguese was somewhat hampered by my excellent French, OK Spanish and basic Italian. The pronunciation seemed so disimilar to the other Latin-based Northern European languages which I'd learned, that I was quite intimidated and more hesitant and afraid to attempt to communicate, than I usually was when abroad.

I wanted for Sian to join me for a pleasant city-break style holiday, but she was busy with end-of-academic-year activities at the university, and she wanted to leave on good terms, in the hope of getting her old job back in approximately one year's time. I also knew that there was vastly more of the journey to complete before the end of the summer, and I didn't want her to decide that life on board the yacht with me wasn't going to work out, before we even reached the warmer waters of Greece and Turkey, where I hoped we would happily spend the winter together.

Some substantially intimidating segments of the journey stood ahead of me: Menorca to Sardinia, Sardinia to Sicily, and finally Sicily to Corfu. Each of these segments would be in seas which were hardly tidal and lacked the gigantic waves and fierce storms of the Atlantic, but would require night sailing a long distance from shore. I didn't want to think about any of these future challenges, including the Gibraltar Straits, whose shipping lanes would be a nightmare to navigate. I wanted to forget all about the remaining trip ahead, for a while, and enjoy some time ashore.

At first, I contented myself with establishing a routine at the marina, where I would enjoy morning coffee in a local café, and some beers in the sunshine, reading a book to take my mind off everything and relax. I was attempting to get myself into a holidaymaker's tourist mindset, instead of that of a sailor, intent on reaching their final destination.

I often forgot to stop and smell the roses, so to speak. Mainstream education had funnelled me through a pre-destined path, via university and straight into a career, without a moment to catch my breath. Summer holidays had been stolen by internships, and group holidays - such as ski trips - with work colleagues had felt a little bit like an extension of my London life. I'd had my career break, of course, but that had been frantic, as I had attempted to build a small business from nothing. Here was a rare opportunity to enjoy the total freedom I had, with no job and career to worry about, no money to be earned - yet, it took me some time to ease my way into a life of leisure, as I was so unused to life without work: academic and career; financial goals etc.

I felt incredibly self-conscious in the evenings, alone. I didn't feel comfortable eating on my own in a restaurant or going to bars in the city centre - I was sure that I'd look like a sleazy old man; a sexual predator. I was sure that people would eye me with suspicion.

There was a bar in the marina where I felt among my own kind at least - yachtie types - and I stayed there until I was quite drunk from the strong Portuguese lager, whereupon I would return to my yacht to prepare and eat a simple meal. With Ian, we had been eating meals which could be prepared while under way, meaning whatever could be cooked in a single saucepan, which was held firmly to the gimballed stove. Having got into the bad habit of tipping ingredients from packets and tins into a pan, until a passable meal was ready to be eaten, I continued with this, washed down with lashings of red wine.

I was quite lonely, but I knew that an amazing summer stretched ahead of me, with the opportunity to see some fabulous ports, harbours, lagoons, coves, islands and a whole heap of wonderful things along the way. I knew that there would be no shortage of friends who wanted to join me along the way, to help me on my mammoth voyage to Corfu.

There were other British sailors in the marina, of course. My ears instinctively picking up the mother tongue, whenever I heard it spoken. I knew that there would be random crew - with varying degrees of experience - who frequented marinas during the pleasant months of the year, and happily took the opportunity for a change of scenery when it arose, happy to add sea miles to their log books, as well as the free bed & board. I was wary of taking my chances with strangers, however - I didn't mind dishing out orders to my friends, but I felt I wouldn't be comfortable with a stranger aboard.

On my third night spent alone at the marina bar, engrossed in my book, a young woman in her mid-twenties came and sat at my table.

"You're English aren't you? Hi, my name's Nicki" she said, offering a handshake. She beamed the happiest and most disarming smile I had ever encountered. "Come and join us for a drink" she said, nodding at a group of friends her age, who beckoned us over with great enthusiasm.

Nikki had dark hair but her tanned and heavily freckled complexion told me that she was a sailor. Her self-confidence and overwhelming friendliness led me to join her and her friends without hesitation. This was an uncharacteristic of me, as somebody normally quite reserved and quiet, and certainly not prone to any rash or sudden acts. For a moment, I noticed that Nikki was a very attractive young woman, and her demeanour could have been mistaken for somewhat flirtatious, but I decided to suppress that doubt and trust my instinct that this was a gesture of pure friendliness, given that my social isolation was quite conspicuous.

It emerged that the group Nikki was with were all her students, who had just completed a sailing course and were celebrating. Nikki was an RYA Yacht Master - a highly coveted qualification - which surprised me, as the Yacht Masters I had met had all been men in their 50s, and looked like typical salty sea dogs, with grey beards.

Had it not been for the high spirits of Nikki's group, and their enthusiastic warm welcome into their group, I think I would have quickly made my excuses and left. It was strange, but it felt a little bit like cheating because the attraction I felt towards Nikki was immediate and intense: here was the perfect partner to complete the voyage from Portugal to Greece, and indeed to sail anywhere in the world with. With a qualified Yacht Master on board, my fear and anxiety surrounding those difficult, stressful and dangerous legs of the passage, would be alleviated and I would be free to enjoy myself, with hardly any sense of responsibility.

At the end of a very boozy evening, I staggered back to my yacht on very unsteady feet. I was pleased with myself that I hadn't asked Nikki for any kind of contact details, or indeed proposed that I hire her as a professional skipper to accompany me for the remainder of my trip. Although I tried to convince myself that the motivation would purely be to reduce my stress levels and increase my enjoyment of the journey - in terms of appreciating the pleasant sailing which lay ahead - I knew that it would also be amazing to have such a beautiful young woman, who was a lot of fun to be around, in charge instead of me.

I hoped I wouldn't bump into her again, but part of me also hoped that I would. I felt very guilty about poor Sian, none the wiser about this chance encounter, back at home in Brighton.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Three 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 Three

I'd always been a night owl, and I was so routinely late for work that my colleagues accepted it as perfectly normal and acceptable behaviour for me, but the past few days had been different.

Almost every morning since the start of my career, I had been in the habit of pressing the snooze button on my alarm clock repeatedly, sometimes for well over an hour. I had set the time on my alarm clock, wristwatch, clocks around the house and in my car to be several minutes fast, in the hope of tricking myself into becoming a more punctual morning person, but this had not proven to be successful. I tried setting a second alarm clock, some distance from my bed, with its alarm set to be the absolute "drop dead" final time at which I could get up, and not arrive at work so late that it would upset my bosses, but I still got out of bed, pressed the snooze button on that second alarm clock and returned to the snug comfort of my bed.

It would be no exaggeration to say that for five days a week, for a period of five years, I had been subjected to routine torture. To use the word "torture" lightly might sound flippant, but the considerable psychological anguish which I suffered, routinely, for prolonged periods each day of the working week, very much fit the definition of torture even if I wasn't having my fingernails pulled out by a sadist, or some other kind of physical torture perpetrated against me.

Of course, I had an extremely well paid job which had allowed me to purchase a nice house, a summer house at the bottom of my large garden, a yacht, a sportscar and enjoy numerous luxurious holidays and ski trips every year. My life was extremely enviable. My late arrival at the office was completely tolerated, because my bosses knew that I worked hard and was highly productive, and I would stay late at the office, so I worked at least as many hours as anybody else. However, there was something about the 9 to 5 Monday to Friday office job routine which was unbearable.

In investment banking, there were times which were extremely exciting, where we worked very long hours. I didn't mind when there was an important deal we were working on, which meant I was working 12 hour days, and dealing with emails at the weekends. When I was working 80 to 100 hours a week, I generally found it much easier to get out of bed and get to work at a semi-respectable time - although never before 9:30am - and my working week was far less torturous, but the workload ebbed and flowed. We were either swamped with work, or else things were quiet and I struggled to find the motivation to get up and go to work.

We had recently delivered the bank's biggest ever deal - ten times bigger than the biggest deal that our firm had ever done. I had played a pivotal role in getting that deal over the line, because I had routinely stayed at the office until 10pm, which was essential given that we were dealing with a US client. Most of my colleagues worked until 7pm, which was fairly normal for investment banking, but there were very few who were prepared to eat dinner at their desk and go home in a taxi - especially those with young children. While our bosses were sympathetic towards the demands placed upon us in our private lives - our family responsibilities - I was the 'golden boy' because I worked more hours than anybody else on the deal; unquestionably, I was the key player responsible for ensuring we all got a very big bonus that year; the bosses were thrilled.

After the deal was completed, the team all received a 'tombstone' - a kind of trophy, made out of plexiglass, which was engraved with the details of the deal. These tombstones were a badge of honour; a feather in the cap. Investment bankers like myself collected them, and proudly displayed them in our offices, as a physical representation of how many deals we had completed. Each tombstone represented a bonus which would be sufficient to buy a small house, luxury sportscar or a yacht, but to talk about your net worth was considered vulgar, and to discuss your remuneration was expressly forbidden - telling a colleague what your salary and bonus was, would be one of the worst sackable offences which you could commit, in an investment bank. So, we had our tombstones, which boasted of how many deals we had done, implying how much money we had made for ourselves and the bank.

Why couldn't I get out of bed?

There was a certain time, after which I felt as though it was too late to saunter into the office. If I hadn't managed to extract myself from my bed and begin my preparations to go to work, I felt duty-bound to phone my boss and tell him that I was sick. For the past 3 days I had phoned in sick, and now I had a problem: I would need some kind of doctor's note to explain my extended absence from work. But, what was wrong with me?

It was now 11:30am on Thursday, and I had been absent on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, without providing any more specific detail other than that I wasn't feeling very well. Today had been by far the worst day, because there was more pressure than ever, to force myself to get up and go to the office. Officially, I should have phoned my boss at 8:30am - the start of our contractual office hours - in order to notify him that I wasn't well enough to come to work, but I had procrastinated each day until 10:30am. On this day, Thursday, I had left it until 11am, as I had desperately hoped that I would be able to motivate myself to go to work. My conversation with my boss had gone worse than expected, because he had explicitly reminded me that I would need a doctor's note to explain my absence. I had hoped that the formality would be waived, but he had been quite particular. Now I was procrastinating about phoning the doctor - what would I tell them?

When I spoke with the doctor's surgery receptionist, she informed me that I could have an appointment in 2 weeks, or else I could phone again in the morning in the hope of getting a same-day appointment, unless I needed an emergency appointment. "Do you need an emergency appointment?" she asked. I said I would phone in the morning for a same-day appointment. She urged me to be prompt, because there were a very limited number of slots available.

I awoke at 7:58am the following day - Friday - and began dialling the number for the doctor's surgery. At first I received a recorded message saying that the opening hours were from 8am, but after repeatedly redialing I was eventually greeted by hold music and told that I was in 3rd place in the queue, and that my call would be answered shortly. The recorded message also told me to hang up and dial 999 if I was having difficulty breathing or had any chest pains, which made me feel quite fraudulent: what was wrong with me? I still had not yet decided what to say to the doctor. I had no idea why I was struggling.

"Hello Pantheon Practice. Are you looking to make a same day appointment to see a doctor?" asked the receptionist.

"Yes, please" I replied.

"So we can pass this on to the doctor, what's the reason for the appointment, please?"

"I, err, I'm tired all the time. I haven't felt well enough to go to work. I haven't left my bed since Sunday, except to get food and use the bathroom" I said, putting into words the nondescript nature of my malaise, for the very first time.

"Ok, I've booked you in at 11:30am with Dr. Weber. Please try to be on time and let us know as soon as possible if you need to cancel or re-book the appointment."PI had been dreading being unable to get a doctor's appointment, having to phone in sick, and anxious that I would not be able to retrospectively obtain a doctor's note if I was feeling better again on Monday. I was hugely relieved that I was now able to phone my boss at 8:40am, and say that I had a doctor's appointment later that day. I struggled to control a slightly triumphant note in my voice: I had felt fraudulent earlier in the week, saying that I was too unwell to go to work, when I was merely tired and demotivated, but now this doctor's appointment gave my torturous situation some slight medically-endorsed legitimacy, although I did not yet possess the sick note that I required. I hadn't been to the doctor since I was a 13 year old boy, when I had an ear infection - 14 consecutive years had elapsed since then, without any contact with a doctor, with the exception of some travel inoculations administered by a nurse.

My appointment with Dr. Weber - a rather stern looking German lady in her fifties - consisted of a curt consultation lasting perhaps no longer than a few minutes.

"What seems to be the problem, Mr. Phillips?" she asked.

"I feel tired all the time. I haven't been able to get up and go to work all week" I replied, feeling rather ashamed that my complaint was so pathetic.

"Have you been under a lot of pressure at work recently? Working very hard?"

"Yes. We just completed an important project."

"Working long hours?" she asked.

"Yes. Very. I suppose an average of at least 80 per week". Her eyes widened in amazement. "It's quite normal in investment banking to work those kind of hours" I said, somewhat defensively.

"You are suffering from burnout, no? I'm signing you off for two weeks. What do you want me to write on doctor's note? Work stress or mental health problems?"

This was an extremely important question: a considerable number of thoughts raced through my head while I attempted to reach a decision. To say that it was work stress which had caused my absence from work was probably the most accurate, but it would suggest that I was weak and unable to handle the demands placed upon me. To be branded with the label of "mentally unwell" was also undesirable, and liable to be career limiting, if my colleagues thought I had an illness which would make me unreliable.

"I never had any health problems before. Could it be something else? I feel so tired all the time" I said, hoping for another more palatable option.

"OK I write awaiting blood test results. We do thyroid test and HIV test" Dr. Weber said, affixing a sticky label onto the sick note I needed, and scribbling in some other details. "Tell reception you need blood sample" she said, selecting a form where she ticked a number of boxes, before handing it to me, turning to face her computer, and starting to type.

I sat, a little shocked at how quickly and abruptly things had gone, and uncertain as to whether the consultation was over.

With a barely disguised sigh of frustration, Dr. Weber turned to me and asked "was there anything else I can help you with today Mr. Phillips?"

As I stepped outside the doctor's surgery onto the street, I noticed that it was a pleasant late-Spring day; unseasonably warm. I felt a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. The relentless pressure which had been inescapable since the day I started school, and especially the period where I had important exams, had carried through to university and then my full-time career. For the first time in 16 or maybe 17 years, I held in my hand a medically sanctioned piece of paper which excused me from the enormous pressures I had faced both academically, and in the world of work.

It felt terrific, knowing that I could spend the next two weeks free from the tyranny and torture of the alarm clock and its snooze button.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day One of #NaNoWriMo2019

11 min read

This is a story about a novel...

Hospital bed

It would be far too 'meta' to write a novel about writing a novel, but I have written a 'story' almost every day, for well over 4 years, publishing the equivalent of 26 novels in that time period. In 2016 I completed the first draft of my debut novel. In 2017 I almost completed my second novel - it's 85% complete. In 2018 I didn't have such a good year for fiction writing, but I was writing my blog at the same time as trying to write my novel, and I was generally unprepared and rather over-worked with other commitments.

This year, I'm going to combine what I'm good at - blogging, telling short stories and being consistent and committed - in order to produce a novel which [hopefully] will weave together some interconnected stories and result in an interesting and worthwhile work of fiction, which succeeds as a piece of art, roughly as the author intended.

I offer the reader a picture of me in hospital suffering from multiple organ failure, which was unable to divert me from my mission to write [almost] every day. My present situation is not quite as drastic as that one, but there is still a substantial amount of effort and energy involved in motivating yourself to write at least 1,667 words per day, for 30 consecutve days, when you have a full-time job and other commitments.

Wish me luck!

* * *

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 One

I was woken up by the sound of a pneumatic tool being operated at the front of my house. A low-frequency rhythmic thumping and high-pitched metallic rattle, were emitted at a volume not normally heard on the quiet suburban roads where I lived, and so my slumbers were abruptly interrupted with a heart-stopping shock. My head swam with confusion in my semi-comatose state, and I was momentarily alarmed: had World War III started suddenly, overnight?

Foolishly, I had forgotten that I was having my gravel driveway replaced with herringbone-pattern bricks, and the noise must be from the builders I had hired.

I was suddenly faced with several competing unpleasant thoughts. It was somewhat embarassing that the builders had started work at a socially acceptable time - 8:30am - while I was still fast asleep on a weekday, and had no intention of reaching the office before 10am, which made me feel quite lazy. It also occurred to me that I would have to walk past the builders at some point, in my office attire, and there would be no disguising the fact I had been at home and not at work, while my builders had been working hard. I wondered whether I was obliged to offer my builders a mug of tea or coffee, and perhaps even bacon sandwiches, or at least biscuits, but it felt a rather onerous task which I would very much prefer to avoid.

I tried to relax back into bed, given that I had been planning on having at least another 30 minutes of sleep, but the noise was persistent. I possessed a powerful determination to sleep as much as possible, and it was not clear whether this outweighed the extremely loud noise and rendered any attempts to stay in bed, utterly futile. I persisted for some minutes while I decided whether I could tolerate the noise, or whether to admit defeat and start getting ready to go to work.

With bitter disappointment, I decided that there was no way I could relax with the ongoing loud din, so I dashed into the shower, dressed quickly and left the house without having any breakfast. This was my usual morning routine: maximum sleep and minimum time wasted faffing around doing things that "morning people" seemed to enjoy doing. I couldn't imagine being the kind of person who reads the newspaper at the dining table, while dipping a piece of toast into a lovingly-prepared soft-boiled egg, before slowly sauntering out of the house, leaving plenty of time to beat the morning rush-hour traffic. My own routine consisted of a highly optimised dash to the office after the rush hour, meaning that I arrived at work late every single day.

"Morning! Alright, shan't detain you, I can see you're busy" I said to the builder who'd given me the original quotation, who I assumed was the boss. I dashed past him and his workmate, who had been operating some kind of pneumatic device for flattening surfaces, and jumped into my car.

My journey to work was another example of my idleness, which I felt some guilt about, but was a system which worked very well for me. My car was an expensive high-specification model from a prestigious German brand, and I enjoyed driving it, even though the walk to work would take me little more than 20 minutes and to cycle it would be as fast as my journey by car.

There were a limited number of car-parking spaces at the office, which were allocated using a combination of seniority and years of service. By virtue of rapid promotion I had found myself the proud owner of a coveted parking space much earlier than any of my longer-serving peers, which served to underline the sense of self-importance which I felt: I was ambitious, young, and talented, so it had irritated and upset me in previous jobs, when I had seen far less competent and capable individuals progressing up the career ladder, simply because they were older. Promotions seemed to be automatic, based upon the number of years spent at a certain rank or grade, which conflicted with my desire for the workplace to be a more meritocratic place, so long as it favoured me, of course.

Arriving late - as usual - my space was one of only two which were free in the car park. My colleagues had become so used to the hours I kept that the concept of 'late' did not particularly apply to me. Perhaps if I wasn't at my desk by 10am, my colleagues would begin to wonder where I was, but I was quite punctual - albeit keeping to a timetable of my own invention, and selfishly suited to my own 'night owl' personality. Obligingly, my colleagues would not book early morning meetings with me, although perhaps they had learned not to try anymore, since clashing appointments would regularly appear or I would decline invitations which would have obliged me to arrive at the office earlier than I wanted to. So, my working day began like most working days: with queue of people wanting to speak to me.

* * *

"Yep so that's 7 pizza & chips and 7 beers, please" said Ian, one of my work colleagues.

A very traditional Italian restaurant - The Taste of Venice - was sandwiched in-between a bingo hall and a furniture auctioneer, and this was the closest restaurant to our office, where a group of us would dine at lunchtime, from Monday to Thursday. The restaurant's decor was tired, worn and dated, having not been refurbished since its opening in the 1980s. Ghastly paintings of cliched Italian tourist attractions and faded fake flowers, accompanied poor-quality attempts at Roman pillars and archways, giving the restaurant the impression of an eating establishment which was cheap and tacky. Most of the tables were empty, except for two 4-person tables which had been pushed together to make an 8-seater table, where my colleagues and I were sat.

Every lunchtime, we all ate exactly the same thing: half a Margherita pizza, chips and a bottle of 'Italian' lager, brewed under license in the UK. Chilli oil was doused liberally on the pizza by those with less sensitive tastebuds than myself, but otherwise, this was a routine gathering for a group of between five and ten of us, who all worked together.

"When do you set sail, Ian?" asked Ollie, a tall and broad-shouldered man with sun-bleached blonde hair and tanned skin. I liked Ollie. He was one of the smartest people I knew and he'd led an interesting life. I was somewhat jealous of how effortlessly he'd seemed to attain his successes: a degree from Cambridge, a career which had taken him around the world, from New York to Japan, and an incredibly attractive wife.

"We're picking her up from Ellös in three weeks. We're going to hang out in Oslo for a few days, do a bit of sightseeing, before we drive down" replied Ian.

"Isn't Oslo in Norway?" I asked, trying to sound intelligent and attempting to impress my colleagues.

"Yes, but it takes half the time to drive from Oslo to Ellös than from Stockholm."

"But isn't Gothenburg the closest airport?" I said, pretending to ask a question when I already knew the answer, because I had checked on a map before we left the office for lunch.

"Flights to Gothenburg are a nightmare" Ian replied dismissively.

I was hurt. I had desperately wanted to be invited along to help crew on Ian's new yacht, which he was soon collecting from the shipyard where she had been built. Ollie and I were both experienced sailors, so I took a little bit of comfort in knowing that Ollie hadn't been invited either, but I felt slightly insulted that Ian had invited another sailing friend from outside our close-knit group, to help him safely deliver his new yacht to her home port.

"When are you taking us all out on it then?" asked Blair, a dark-haired man with thick stubble and a strong Scottish accent. Blair was unlike the rest of the group, because his upbringing had been more humble; less privileged. Blair was well paid - as we all were - but his cocaine habit was an open secret and had led to him being passed over for promotion on several occasions.

"You still owe me money from the winter racing series, last October" replied Ian. "You know I'm always looking for crew during the racing season."

Ian was by far the keenest sailor out of Ollie, him and myself, and he regularly left work early during the summer months so that he could race his yacht in the evening. Ian's plan was to live aboard his new yacht, during the summer, and only work during the winter months, which he was able to do because he was a consultant with very specific expertise.

"Anyway, changing the subject, when's your leaving do, Rich?" I asked.

Rich had decided to quit investment banking and study for an MBA. He had ambitions to be a startup CEO. He was a short man with a slight build and a high-pitched voice. I struggled to picture him as a CEO, given that he was the least ambitious in our group of friends, and didn't seem to demonstrate any particular leadership qualities or entrepreneurial qualities. I wondered what they were going to teach him on his MBA which might be useful.

"Week on Friday" replied Rich.

"It's going to be HUGE" said Blair, grinning with enthusiasm.

Our group of friends and colleagues were extremely well remunerated, in our cushy investment banking jobs, and alcoholism was virtually encouraged; certainly not discouraged. The reason why we only ate in The Taste of Venice from Monday to Thursday, was because from Friday lunchtime onwards we would be drinking all day, pausing only to collect our jackets and bags from the office, before returning to the pub.

"More beers, everyone?" I asked rhetorically, as I caught the restaurant owner's eye and waved my empty bottle, indicating that we all needed a refill. "Did you hear that Stephen's thinking about quitting to become a landscape gardener?"

This was our lunchtime ritual: getting drunk and discussing our plans to quit the rat race.

 

Next chapter...

 

Step Eleven: Avoid The Supermarket

4 min read

This is a story about marketing...

Deals deals deals

I was on my way home and decided to nip into a large supermarket, as opposed to my small local shop, where I usually top up my groceries on a more regular basis. If I go to a large supermarket, I'm always tempted to fill a trolley with lots of nice things and purchase far more food than it's possible for me to consume before its expiry date, which is incredibly wasteful. I do enjoy shopping in supermarkets, but there are a multitude of temptations, which are better avoided. Less choice is better, because it means that I only purchase the specific items I need.

Of course, supermarkets are aware of the human psychological fallibility, when it comes to being presented with greater choice. If one set of test subjects are offered a bowl full of multicoloured sweets, and another set of test subjects are offered a bowl of sweets of a single colour, more of the multicoloured sweets will be consumed, even though the only difference between them is the variety of colours - the flavours are identical. We are programmed to consume the greatest possible variety, because this would have conveyed an evolutionary advantage, given that our bodies need trace amounts of micronutrients, which we wouldn't get if we only ate our favourite thing, exclusively.

As I lingered by the checkout, waiting to pay for my groceries, I could see two aisles full of alcohol, in very close proximity to where I was forced to wait. In fact, I had been forced to walk past two alcohol aisles twice, due to the layout of the supermarket. At the end of each aisle were various alcohol deals, along with other aisles which also had alcohol deals at the end, and alcohol deals which were part of meal deals, and other displays of bottles of wine which were dotted around the store. As a conservative estimate, I must have been presented with the opportunity to purchase alcohol - within grabbing distance - perhaps 20 times in one supermarket visit, despite the fact that I didn't walk down either of the alcohol aisles.

Given that I have completed 30 of the 31 days of "Sober October" it was highly tempting to buy some alcohol in preparation for November 1st, when my self-imposed period of sobriety ends (perhaps). I tried to remember that I promised myself I would endure with my alcohol-free existence until I had achieved some tangible goals, such as weight loss and generally feeling healthier and happier, but the combination of payday and November 1st being a Friday, plus my flawless completion of 42 consecutive days of sobriety, was leading me to feel as though I 'deserved' to get drunk at the end of the working week.

It's virtually impossible to avoid supermarkets, corner shops and indeed, to travel anywhere without passing an off-license or some other premises that sells alcohol. Alcohol is ubiquitous. I pity alcoholics, and I pity recovering alcoholics, who must continually endure marketing attempts to push them into relapse. While my 42 consecutive days of sobriety have passed with relative ease, it must be a nightmare for somebody with a serious alcohol addiction, or somebody who has conquered alcoholism but is always at risk of relapse.

"Avoid the supermarket" is terrible advice, because it's nearly impossible, but I thought I should write about it anyway. We need to acknowledge that the most dangerous and damaging drug - alcohol - which costs our society by far and away the most amount of money due to antisocial behaviour, health damage, loss of productivity and a whole raft of other problems, is something which is sold anywhere and everywhere, and heavily marketed and promoted. It's virtually impossible to avoid alcohol being "pushed" by a "drug pedaler".

My present period of sobriety has brought me no particular weight loss, health improvements or otherwise discernable benefits, but I'm glad I've done it. I'm glad to have demonstrated that I can stop drinking whenever I need or want to, because alcohol is insidious and can easily creep into your daily routine, and slowly destroy your health. It's been useful to be acutely aware of how regularly I am drawn to the alcohol which is on sale in so many locations, as to make it all-but unavoidable.

 

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