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I'm a writer. I write about life with bipolar disorder - also known as manic depression - so my eponymous alter ego is MaNic Grant.

I've written more than 1 million words: it's the world's longest suicide note.

twitter.com/ManicGrant

nick@manicgrant.com

facebook.com/manicgrant

 

Clickfarm

5 min read

This is a story about modern slavery...

Computer monitors

A friend and I had been puzzling over how to stop a massive influx of spam comments from spreading all over my beloved blog. The fact that it's possible to leave a link back to your own blog - if you have one - is too much of a temptation for those who are trying to get websites to appear higher up the Google search rankings. I have done the hard work of writing more than 1.2 million words, which have been indexed by Google, and lazy individuals are attempting to profit from my labour, by associating their crappy websites with mine: so-called 'backlinks'.

Having a link from a reputable website to another website is seen as an endorsement, in Google's eyes. High-ranking websites confer some of their pagerank 'score' to other sites which they link to. It's an SEO trick that's been around almost as long as Google - trying to get links onto other people's websites... especially high-ranking ones.

Google has now punished me harshly for not staying on top of my spam comment problem and has removed me from many searches. If, for example, you were to search for my name - Nick Grant - you would have found me on page 2 or 3 of the search results, but now I've disappeared completely. As far as Google's algorithm's are concerned, this website is a contrived creation, created purely to help people promote their dodgy websites. I'm not even going to write about what the kinds of grim and immoral services these sites are offering, because to use those words would further hurt Google's algorithmic perception of me and my website.

I had presumed that it was bots leaving the comments, so a friend helped me to introduce a couple of mechanisms to stop automated comments from being left. Surprisingly, the comments kept coming - there are real people whose job it is to sit at a screen and click those annoying ReCaptcha things, and then copy-paste in links to websites along with some nonsense made up text that's supposed to look like a genuine comment.

I'm not even going to share the kinds of comments that these clickfarm people leave, because it would again detract from the 1.2 million words that I have painstakingly written in clear plain English, with good grammar and highly considered sentence construction. I have taken the time to structure my writing into concise sentences and paragraphs, and express myself with great clarity, while there are an army of people leaving comments which are almost but not-quite nonsensical.

Google's natural language analysis is able to tell that what I write is genuine human-generated content, but it's also fooled by stuff written by people whose job it is to write generic comments for the purposes of search engine optimisation (SEO). The volume of text that Google scrapes from the web and indexes includes vast swathes of nonsense from social media, where literacy standards are woeful, but the majority of content on the internet is at least user-generated. It's hard for a search engine like Google to punish the spammers and the scammers, while also making sure that an ordinary member of the public who builds, maintains and publishes to their own 'home-brew' website, is not caught in the same net.

The same friend who has been helping me with my spam comment problem was also associated with a popular forum which had millions of visitors, at one point in time, until the site was completely over-run by bots. It's hard to battle bots and suchlike, when you're just a tech enthusiast who's making their small contribution to the body of internet text, and you don't have heaps of spare time to innovate and stay one step ahead of the spammers.

For me to comb through all the comments that have been left on my blog and delete the spam ones would be something which would either be a time-consuming manual task, or a time-consuming and technically difficult job to automate. Obviously, automating the task seems like the smart choice, so that the job of deleting all the spam is easily repeatable, but it would be work that's very similar to my day job - the whole point of writing for pleasure is because I have no opportunity to do so in the office. Doing "office work" in my spare time seems like an unfair burden, given that all I want to do is write and publish my thoughts, for the benefit of genuine readers - why should spammers benefit from my efforts?

Ultimately, the spammers might sink my website, just as spam Twitter accounts almost sank my social media presence. I can't help it if I don't have the resources to painstaking delete, ban, block and otherwise defend myself against those who are making money off the back of my effort, energy and generous contribution.

I do feel a little sorry for the poor people whose job it is to click on fire hydrants and traffic lights, and paste gibberish into comment sections of a website. In fact, I feel very sorry for them. That's a terrible job to have.

Anyway, any website link you leave now will not link anywhere except back here, so I'm sorry spammers: you're wasting your time. Leave me alone. Not that you read my blog anyway.

 

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Lock Up Your Daughters

7 min read

This is a story about being protective...

Cat carrier

I read something the other day that said "imagine that you have a daughter and she's dating somebody like you". The suggestion was that if you wouldn't be happy with your own daughter being treated the way that you treat women, then you need to think long and hard about your behaviour and attitudes, and change.

The short answer to the question of whether I should be dating anyone's daughter or not is a pretty easy one: I try to be kind, considerate, respectful and honest; I try to bring joy to the life of the object of my affections, doing fun stuff and generally acting with a great deal of enthusiasm and passion for the things they love.

What's the catch?

If you're looking to find something wrong with me - a reason to reject me - then there's ample ammunition here, provided in exquisite gory detail on the pages of this website, which unflinchingly documents every aspect of my life and the contents of my brain, throughout a 4-year period, in an incredibly candid manner which is not usually found outside of a private journal/diary.

For those who seek to reject, they will find what they're looking for. My past is my past, and although I have the option of expunging my digital identity from the internet - erasing history - it would run contrary to a very meticulous and exhaustive exploration of a substantial period of my life, which was deliberate. We need to remember this: I deliberately wrote down things which were unflattering about myself, because my mission has always been to document things with as little self-censorship as possible.

Of course, I don't want to be harshly criticised or ridiculed, so sometimes I have tentatively written about the so-called "bad stuff" with caution, at first. We've all lived lives where we've made mistakes. We all have regrets. Nobody is perfect. We all have insecurities. We all respond badly under particularly adverse conditions. Whether it's something we said which was needlessly hurtful and/or caused upset/offence, whether it was an act of poor judgement, or whether it was something like a silly mistake which was quite embarrassing, we all carry these things around, and we never talk about them, let alone write them all down and publicly publish them.

I'm half-tempted to signpost people to the periods of my life which were most difficult, so that they can judge me and reject me based on something from the past which I have no power to alter. If you wish to reject a person, you're going to be able to find something, if you meticulously examine their entire history in search of something which ordinarily would be inaccessible to you - very few people have written and published so much about themselves, which leaves them so exposed to prejudice.

This is deliberate.

I ask the reader to follow the story, not to dig for dirt. The story is interesting because it has a beginning, a middle and an end. If you simply want to skim-read and find 'whodunnit' then you've missed the point: I'm a living, breathing person who is continuously telling my story, which has not yet ended. To know who I am and the nature of my character is best done by travelling along with me for a little while, here in the present, where you will find that I make my very best efforts to write every single day, and to do so with brutal honesty.

To study my past is cynical. It might tell you why my character is the way that it is, but it will not tell you what my character is, because we live in the present, not in the past; things are constantly changing.

If you're interested enough in me to go back through the archives, which stretch to over 1.2 million words, then I'm flattered that you would take such an interest in me, but I really don't wish to be held accountable for a version of myself that no longer exists. The very nature of this project has been to hold myself publicly accountable, and I'm very grateful to my readers, who are often kind enough to give me feedback that is relevent in the present.

I'm in an exclusive relationship with a very beautiful young woman, who I'm absolutely crazy about. We've deleted our dating profiles. We're cautiously but optimistically exploring the future, together. This website is incredibly tempting for not only her, but also those who care about her, in order to find things out about me.

In the ordinary world, we share relatively few details: we know where somebody works, what their highest academic qualification is and which institution awarded the diploma, and we perhaps know some details about whether they have siblings and if their parents are still alive. We attempt to distill a person down to a curriculum vitæ because it's more convenient shorthand than 1.2 million words, plus the messy complexity of a human being, who invariably refuses to be neatly pigeon-holed.

"What do you do?" is the classic middle-class question which attempts to get directly to the point: are you one of us?

I have a respectable job, a respectable house. I dress quite conservatively and I like to think of myself as well-mannered. Clearly, I can speak and write to confer the impression of possessing a modest intellect. I'm not addicted to illegal drugs, in financial distress and I haven't fathered a string of abandoned children. I haven't killed anybody or otherwise been convicted of a crime. What's not to like?

I'm undergoing very thorough security vetting - a process taking several months - and I work on an extremely high-profile project for an organisation which is a household name. One would have thought that I'm a good chap.

However, perhaps it's only those who are truly fearful for themselves and those who they feel protective about - for example daughters and any living parent - who would bother to do the due diligence of putting "Nick Grant" into Google. My colleagues see me confidently and competently doing good work every day, so why would they ever suspect that I would do something so unusual as to publish a vast trove of unflattering information about myself?

We are usually content that if a person has had a great career spanning a long period of time, working for illustrious organisations, then they are a trustworthy individual of fine character. However, I invite you to dig through the archives if you feel that you must... but I ask you to question why you are doing that: what you are hoping to find? I promise you that if you are seeking to expose me as a sham, then you will be disappointed, but if you are looking for any mistake I've ever made, in my entire life, you will find plenty and you will have the thing you wanted - a reason to reject me - or in fact a single tiny piece of information that tells you a minuscule amount about the history which has shaped the man I am today.

I caution you against making a judgement based on the chapter of a book which you opened at random, but I have nothing to hide: I'm one of the most thoroughly documented individuals who you're ever likely to be able to study, with the exception of course of those who are noteworthy and notorious enough to have had an archivist preserve their journals for academics to fetishise.

Is this an ego project? No. This is a coping mechanism and a form of therapy. This is something that brings structure and routine to my life. This is something that has brought me new friends, as well as allowing old friends to keep up-to-date with my life; a life which has been atypical.

Happy hunting.

 

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Creepy Stalker Weirdo

6 min read

This is a story about being a nerd...

Secrets

I suppose that I forget that I live my life as an almost completely open book; that I have this million-word repository of all my deepest darkest thoughts, thoroughly documenting every unflattering detail about me. I suppose I forget that it's not normal to live life with so little privacy and secrecy.

I try to be considerate of other people's normal attitudes towards privacy, confidentiality and discretion, but my own attitude - that I'll write about and publish all the gory details of my life in public - is so extreme that I can misjudge how uncomfortable it can make people feel, that there's a certain amount of information which exists about them in the public domain, but there's a tacit agreement that to look at that data would be a bit stalker-ish.

We might choose to have an Instagram account where we put up photographs of all our happiest moments. We might choose to have a Facebook account where we share things which tell the world what our values are. We might choose to have a LinkedIn account, where we present our professional persona for the purposes of getting a job or finding clients. We might have a website where we sell our services.

In the UK, company directors, shareholders with significant stakes in public companies, homeowners, criminals and other people will have their names and other details recorded by places like Companies House, the Land Registry and the courts, such that any member of the public who wants to do a bit of digging can find things out... things that might make us uncomfortable if anybody went digging in the archives.

I'm becoming increasingly easy to find - a quick Google search or a search of Twitter will quickly yield this website - and I suppose it's an illustration of how unusual it is for somebody to write and publish so candidly, so many unflattering things about themselves, that few colleagues and love interests have bothered to try to find me, because they must surely presume that they wouldn't find anything more interesting than a Facebook profile or a dull Twitter page with lots of retweets. Equally, perhaps it's very British to be a reserved and private person, and equally to keep our noses out of other people's business.

My day job involves gathering a lot of very private and confidential data from vast numbers of people, and keeping it safe, there is still a great deal of responsibility on my shoulders to not abuse my powers. I've worked for very many organisations, which have entrusted me with the power to go digging in the databases, if I was determined to do so. I suppose I think of publicly available data as having been made public for a reason, but in truth, unless you're a technology professional you're probably not particularly aware of how much you might inadvertently be sharing with the world.

I guess the lesson I haven't learned is a simple one: don't look.

It's strange that the guardians of such vast amounts of very sensitive compromising personal data are the nerds who some consider to be almost sub-human. Some of us love to laugh at the involuntarily celibate (InCel) men who are so incredibly gifted in the field of technology, data and the internet, but completely feckless in the world of dating and girls. How desperately the InCels would like to get a girlfriend and have sex, but instead they lurk in dark bedrooms, running the entire internet. How ironic that the InCels should know better than anybody else, just how much casual sex everybody but them is managing to get. How ironic that the InCels who are told that they're creepy and gross, also see that some men receive very different treatment: what's creepy and gross for a nerd - unwanted attention - is quite welcome and encouraged if you're a Chad, to use the InCel terminology for a hypothetical handsome man.

I don't know whether to think of myself of one of those creepy nerds, or whether to think of myself more as a Chad. The internet is my window into the world, and I probably put my tech skills to misuse when curiosity gets the better of me. I freely admit that I struggle to resist the temptation to see what's out there on on the internet, relating to a girl who I'm very attracted to... which is not good behaviour, I think.

Admitting to having Google'd somebody seemed harmless enough, I thought; perhaps even funny. I thought that it would be a bit embarrassing for me that I was curious and went and took a look, but it turns out that it can make the person who got Google'd very uncomfortable.

I live my life with this vast trove of unflattering things about me, publicly available, but I have written repeatedly about the difficult feelings I have when dating, being so exposed. I guess it would make me very defensive and feel very exposed, to know that somebody who I had a romantic interest in was reading this, and judging me. I'm a very difficult person to judge from my public persona, because I've written and published so much. I always worry that a person would quickly get bored of reading, and then form a judgement based on the particular chapter of my life they walked in on, rather than seeing the big picture.

Anyway, I probably shouldn't write about this, because it's also crossing another line, but I very nearly caused the calamitous end of a very pleasant evening, because of my own curiosity and propensity to be very honest and open: Admitting that I'd been doing what was interpreted as cyber-stalking was not a good look. It was a big mistake. I thought it'd be funny that I'm such a nerdy weirdo and so insecure, that I did a bit of Google'ing, which was harmless in my mind, but it turned out to make the person very uncomfortable, and I very much regret it.

I can't say much more, because I do have certain rules about what I'll write about and what I won't, in order to preserve some of the privacy of relationships I have with friends, and my dating escapades.

Anyway, turns out I can be a bit of a creepy stalker weirdo, but it also turns out that I'm enough of a Chad to get away with it, although I do regret what I did and I won't do it again.

 

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New Website

3 min read

This is a story about dusting off the keyboard...

Dusty keyboard

If you are reading this then something fairly major has been achieved - I've managed to migrate 1.1 million words and 10,000 photographs from one one part of the internet to another. For anybody who uses Wordpress or Blogger dot com or some other type thingy, you might not find that very impressive, because your website is hosted by some mega-corporation and all the technical complexity is hidden away from you, but my website uses a piece of software written by some old school-friends - it's a startup - and it's now hosted by little old me, typing undecipherable commands in green text on a black screen, in scenes reminiscent of The Matrix.

I made a commitment about 4 years ago to use my friend's new startup as my home on the internet, and it still my home to this day: his startup powers my website, but it's now me who's responsible for "keeping the lights on". My friend kindly used his time and money to keep me running, but I always felt guilty about it, especially as my site has grown and grown in size.

"The cloud" is a bit of nebulous concept. Basically "the cloud" just means "other people's computers". My website is hosted in "the cloud" which means that if the power fails at my house, or somebody breaks in and steals all my computers, then my website doesn't go offline - security and uninterrupted power are somebody else's problem.

Your eyes are probably well and truly glazed over by this point, but it's a big deal - I did some stuff which I usually get paid to do, which I'd really rather not have been doing in my spare time, unpaid, and now I have the ongoing responsibility of maintaining my own little bit of "the cloud".

There's a great fear that I might have lost something precious during my migration from my friend's hosting to my own hosting. It certainly wasn't a straightforward procedure. Everything appears to be working OK, but given that it's just me myself and I, it's hard for me to do much testing - I'm relying on regular readers to report anything that's not working.

You might notice that my site is now "secure" - complete with a little padlock up in the browser bar. All this means is that if ever you were commenting on one of my blog posts, the data that's being sent would be encrypted, which is useless given that your comments would appear publicly anyway, but people like to see "secure" sites, even if they don't store any personal data. It feels a bit more professional that I've properly "secured" my site with encryption.

So, this is the new old. Everything should look pretty much identical. If it's 100% identical, then I've done a great job and I'm really happy.

It's a strange thing, to have done lots of work "under the hood" but nothing that anybody can really see, but that's what I've done for a living for the past couple of decades, so I shan't bore you with the details... although I already have.

Bear with me if there are any teething problems and do drop me a line if you spot anything not working - I'd be really grateful, because you readers are my beta testers.

If you're reading this, then great!

 

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Life Lived Publicly

7 min read

This is a story about open secrets...

Time to talk

A date asked me if she could read my blog. She already has enough information to be able to easily find it on Google: all you'd have to type would be "Nick bipolar blog Cardiff" and I pop up as both the 2nd and 3rd hits. I've decided to go "full disclosure" on my dating profile and tell people that I have bipolar disorder, because it's something pretty important to know about me. I also say that I write a blog and spend a lot of time on Twitter. That's quite a lot of information to give away, which easily leads to this absolute goldmine of everything you'd ever want to know about me, and a lot that you really would probably rather not know.

There's a great imbalance if somebody has access to a great big cache of totally candid and brutally honest writing, which confesses every single innermost thought, expresses every single insecurity and exposes all my vulnerabilities.

Usually, when getting to know somebody, each person reveals themselves little by little, and each person slowly forms an opinion - there's a limited amount of information available from which to form a judgement. Also, we present ourselves in either the way that we would like to be perceived, or in the way that we perceive ourselves. If we have pretentions, we present that image. If we have insecurities, we also make those known in subtle ways, or we attempt to hide them. If we wish to be insincere, we can lie and boast. If we wish for things from our past to be forgotten, we can omit those gory details from the account we tell.

Given that it is my well-practiced habit to write without self-censorship on a daily basis, and to use this blog as a coping mechanism during some very difficult times, I'm exposed in a way that most ordinary people are not. A glance at somebody's Instagram account is going to reveal very little about their state of mind. A glance at somebody's hand-picked photographs, selected to present an enviable glamorous adventurous lifestyle, does not in any way hint at what life's really like for the person who controls that account.

A glance at my blog reveals a fairly dismal picture of me at the moment. I'm quite overwhelmed with seemingly mundane things, such as administrative paperwork and other fairly simple tasks associated with getting a new home into good working order - assembling flat-pack furniture and suchlike. I complain about being single and lonely, and isolated: lacking in an adequate social life. I have also regularly mentioned suicidal ideation, usually triggered by minor inconveniences and frustration, borne of my unrealistic expectations of how quickly I should be able to restore my life to health, wealth and prosperity, complete with a new girlfriend, having only just very recently moved to a new city.

Because I never write with the mindset of "what if somebody from work or somebody who I wanted to date read this?" it means that I'm at risk of being judged harshly by people who might walk in on a particular chapter of my life and quickly gain an unflattering impression of me.

I don't write to impress work colleagues. I don't write to impress potential girlfriends. I write because writing is an integral part of my life, and writing publicly is now "normal behaviour" to me, although I'm well aware that most people wouldn't share what I share, because they'd see it as a risk to their reputation - it'd make them more vulnerable, less safe and secure, and they see privacy as something desirable.

I found privacy to be unhelpful. I found that privacy meant that nobody knew how close to suicide I was, which was a very dangerous state of affairs, and I found that privacy led to me becoming increasingly isolated and paranoid - I was terrified of anybody finding out that I was unwell, which spiralled out of control. The more I worried about people finding out that I was sick, the more sick it made me.

The answer, as it has turned out to be, was to write everything down and publish it so that anybody can read it. My illness was by no means "cured" overnight by taking that course of action, but over time, old friends and new ones have been able to engage with me and I've maintained a toe-hold in the land of the living. The most unusual thing - making my entire life an open book - has turned out to be one of the most important things to give my life stability, structure, routine and access to a vast number of supportive caring individuals, who've intervened at critical moments during the 4 years I've been writing... including one crucial moment which literally saved my life.

The question about whether I should allow prospective girlfriends to read this blog is perhaps bound up with the question about whether people who've had difficult life experiences are "broken" and are therefore "worthless". If you believe that people should suffer lifelong punishment for their mistakes, then perhaps this blog is perfect to share with prospective girlfriends, because I'd never want to date anybody who'd harshly judge me for things which happened in my past which I have no ability to change: my time machine is broken.

If anybody is looking to go digging for dirt with a negative mindset - hoping to discover that I'm a terrible person who's done terrible things - then I think that those people won't be disappointed. My behaviour has regularly fallen short of perfection and I'm deeply disappointed with things I've said and done in the past; I do carry regret and remorse; I've made innumerable mistakes.

I wonder how much I differ from, say, a man who abandoned his young children and wife to run away with a young woman who he was having an affair with - an utterly devastatingly despicable piece of behaviour, ruining innocent lives and making a mockery of solemn vows of lifelong monogamy and dedication to a spouse, plus the dereliction of dutiful responsibilities - versus my mistakes which bear no such hallmark of obnoxiousness. Yes, I've caused a great deal of distress during times when I was extremely sick, but I assure you that no amount of digging will unearth evidence that I'm some kind of selfish evil man, lacking in empathy and remorse. In fact, a thorough reading of my blog reveals that I often reflect upon events from my past and wish that I had acted differently, and I am critical of my own behaviour, attempting to acknowledge my own flaws and spot common mistakes, so that I might learn from them.

This is a highly defensive piece, but it's a highly stressful time. My job is going very well and I would dearly love to start another relationship. Having this vulnerability - in the guise of this blog - is highly inadvisable, but I'm loath to bury it, given how important it is to me as a coping mechanism and a way to keep concerned friends informed of my state of mind.

I might write another synopsis of "the story so far" for those who are dipping in for the first time, because it upsets me that it's impossible to see the bigger picture without reading approximately 1.1 million words, and I don't like the idea of being judged on a handful of skim-read recent blog posts, mostly complaining about mundane and trivial matters.

Of course, none of us wants to be misunderstood, and my writing is perhaps the most desperate attempt to avoid that situation, given that I've felt so close to death for so long. However, ironically, it's pretty damn hard to get to know me - to understand me - because I've written so much and for so long.

If you've read as far as this point, what can I say? Thank you. The comfort I get from knowing that my thoughts and feelings are not trapped inside my body, unseen, is immeasurably valuable to me.

 

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After The Mania, Regret

8 min read

This is a story about the consequences of a mood disorder...

Bipolar memory

Having had a mood disorder - bipolar - all my life, with its symptoms perhaps becoming indisputably obvious from adolescence onwards, I've had a lot of time to reflect upon the regrettable consequences of things that I said and did when I was experiencing hypomania or mania.

As a child I had little opportunity to do anything which had any particularly negative consequences. I took risks I suppose and I established a pattern of frenzied activity followed by melancholic lethargy. The intensity of my early hypomania was triggered by the rare event of being able to spend time with friends, when so much of my childhood was spent bored while my parents took drugs and got drunk. The excitement of escaping the boredom and oppression of being trapped in a house or a car with drugged-up or drunk dribbling morons, was so great that I would talk rapidly, be unable to sleep and I exuded so much energy that my friends and their parents were alarmed by this behaviour, which was uncharacteristic of how I acted at school, for example.

School terms were long and they were unbearable. For whatever reason, I was bullied constantly. School was something to be endured and I treated it in very much the same way that I treated my parents' negligence - I lived inside my own head, bored but attempting to entertain myself with my own imagination. I was incredibly patient, given the unpleasantness of my school days and the time I was forced to spend with my parents, who were so incredibly selfish that they destroyed most chances I would've had to form meaningful long-lasting friendships. Every school holiday, and indeed many weeks and months of term-time, my parents would remove me from the company of my peers, because they wanted to get drunk and take drugs in an isolated rural location, where they thought they would be safe from the criticism which they would draw for the neglect they were showing me; they attempted to hide their disgusting disgraceful behaviour.

My parents' folie-a-deux, which I see now was a toxic co-dependency, motivated by their addiction to alcohol and drugs, was clearly very formative and shaped my character. I became a patient plotter, who could put myself into a trancelike disconnected state to endure the interminable boredom of being trapped with a pair of dribbling moronic drug addict drunks, with no friends to play with - deliberately isolated from my peers.

This is why I do not celebrate mothers' day - because my mother is nothing more than an alcoholic drug addict with bad taste in men, and I wish I had never been born.

Luckily, modern society reveres those who have bipolar tendencies. How would anybody be expected to pass their school examinations, university finals or write a dissertation, unless they were able to cram and work hard in short and intense periods, having the academic holidays to then collapse on the brink of a nervous breakdown, to recover? How would anybody be expected to undergo the the awfulness of attempting to get a foot on the first rung of the career ladder, and the dreadfulness of the 9 to 5 office grind, unless they could muster the manic energy to be enthusiastic in numerous interviews where you're expected to lie about how excited you'd be to join Acme Corporation and their widget manufacturing business? How can you get ahead in your career, when you are so thwarted by your colleagues and the dreadful bureaucratic nature of organisations - with their "can don't" attitude - except by having periods of intense focus and effort, which no stable level-headed person would ever undertake in their right mind? How could you quit your job, start a company and make it successful, unless you had some kind of screw loose, which drives you to work 100+ hours a week and not give up on something until the results are delivered?

Nobody much cares about the periods of depression that regularly occur in the life of a person with bipolar disorder, because we celebrate achievements and we hide our failures. We pretend that we never screwed up. We pretend that we never got sick. According to our CVs and our LinkedIn pages, we are perfect infallible human beings, who are completely flawless. Because people with bipolar disorder regularly have episodes of hypomania or mania which are full of boundless creative energy, they have an impressive list of achievements under their belt. Nobody ever lists their depressions on their CV or LinkedIn.

Moving house and breaking up with my last girlfriend has left me exhausted and all alone in a new city. I have a work colleague who is reasonably friendly, but a very busy family man, and I have met one new friend, although they don't live very nearby. It's hard to describe how lonely and isolated I am - physically - because few people ever reach this point in their life without taking some kind of evasive action. It's very unnatural for humans to go to strange places and leave themselves totally cut off from social contact, beyond the minimum necessary to get money and buy food.

The flurry of activity which pre-dated me moving house was prompted by stress, and it contributed to the exhaustion and depression I'm feeling now. Also, I feel embarrassed that my grand plans to work on projects presently lie abandoned and the people who I was in contact with have been neglected for quite some time. It's very damaging to my self-esteem to know that my behaviour is so conspicuously unpredictable and unreliable, which leads people to believe that there's little value in the investment of a deeper and more meaningful friendship. When I crash, I cannot face the pressure of maintaining contact, so I disappear and I'm overwhelmed with guilt over the people and projects which are being neglected.

Sometimes, mania prompts me to say regrettable things. I particularly use Facebook as a 'safe space' to rant when I'm struggling with my mental health, because at least it keeps my regrettable words contained in a place where they're not publicly accessible. My friends can respond and calm me down, and I'm not left scrabbling to delete things which were inadvisable to write and publish publicly. My friends - if they're real friends - would take my words with a pinch of salt and not unduly categorise me as a madman and a lost cause.

It's deeply worrisome, knowing that my mental health can collapse and I can act regrettably. It's an unsettling and insecure state of affairs, knowing that I could easily destroy the good reputation I have and the respect of my colleagues, if I was to show a little bit too much of my illness. I keep things relatively neatly partitioned: my blog is where I write honestly, but always mindful that my words are subject to public scrutiny. Facebook is where I write things which are almost always a cry for help, or in some way symptomatic of the very bad mental health problems I'm dealing with. Work is where I spend a great deal of effort "acting normal" and attempting to show a reliable consistent side of myself, despite dreadful inner turmoil and very difficult events in my personal life.

One might say that this entire blog is regrettable, given that it's easily discoverable by my work colleagues, but I do not speak ill of anybody or the organisations I'm involved with, and I do not bring my profession into disrepute - I think that my conduct is perfectly acceptable, and I'm prepared to defend it on the grounds that I find it immensely therapeutic to have this outlet, and the support of people who are kind enough to read my words and send me kind messages.

I have a lot of regret. I admit that I could have made much better choices in a lot of situations. I don't hide behind my mental illness as an excuse. I'm perfectly capable of accepting that my behaviour has been regrettable and that I should have handled things differently.

Why then continue to write like this? The answer is complicated: I have no idea what would happen if I didn't have this single thread of consistency in my life. Rightly or wrongly, I credit this blog with bringing me things which have saved my life: my guardian angel, the people who got the emergency services to save my life during my most recent suicide attempt, the family who looked after me when I was jobless and homeless, and some of the friends who I speak to on a regular basis, who all only know me because I put myself out into the public domain - they reached out to me and rescued me, in their own ways.

 

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Making A Fool Of Myself

4 min read

This is a story about safeguards...

Mr Happy

There is an oft-quoted statistic about 93% of communication being non-verbal. When I write, you cannot hear my tone of voice and you cannot see my body language or facial expressions. When I write, I do so in advance of your reaction, so I am unable to tell whether what I am saying is being well received or whether it is causing people to recoil in horror and disgust.

It's damn hard being live-wired into the fabric of the internet. It's not easy using public writing as a coping mechanism.

I get home and my anxiety levels are sky-high having spent a whole day in an office trying to act normal and keep my mouth shut. I get home and I've usually spent the bulk of the day trapped in my own skull with my thoughts bouncing around inside my head. I get home and I'm suddenly very alone, but I'm in an environment where I can somewhat relax and be myself. The net result is an outpouring of jumbled thoughts and feelings, which get typed and published onto this website, for the entire world to see.

Because of the incredible disruption of moving house and things which have greatly disturbed my brain chemistry, I have an ever-increasing amount to say, in a desperate attempt to occupy my mind and bring some structure to my life. My routines are sacrosanct to me but I have little control in my work environment, where I must conform to bland office mediocrity and keep my head below the parapet, so my writing is the part of my routine where I blow off some steam. Unfortunately, there's a great deal of pressure to be released.

I'm aware that my daily word count has been creeping up little by little, to the point where I'm easily blasting out 1,500 or 2,000 words at a sitting. Nobody wants to read that much. Instead of writing short sweet little blog posts, I churn out disturbing half-formed thoughts from the depths of my subconscious, which reveal a side of me that nobody ever directly acknowledges in themselves, let alone writes about at length.

Instead of finding a dark corner of the internet to lurk in and turning my insecurities into hate-filled invective directed at a common chosen target, replete with the jargon of a particular online community, instead I have developed a reflex where if I think it, I remember it and I write it down. My daily writing reflects all the unspeakable things which any person might think but never say. I say the things because of my increasing isolation.

I'm lucky enough to have a great number of friends online who I could chat to, but I feel as though I'm poisoned and that I must cut off the limb which the venomous snake bit. I feel as though I have to purge myself of toxicity. I feel as though I must try to vent all the terrible things I'm feeling, in order to feel better.

I write out of sheer desperation.

I doesn't seem to matter how much I write - it doesn't make things better, but sometimes it makes things worse. I write because it's a well-established habit and pattern of behaviour. I write because it helps me to get my thoughts in order. I write because it helps me feel in control of my life. I write because I'm proud that I'm creating something. I write because it gets a reaction. I write because it gives me a connection to people. I write because people respond. Sometimes, however, people don't respond and the lack of reaction is distressing.

I push very hard. I push myself. I push others.

I'm not sure if I'm pushing people away, but I certainly stopped engaging properly with people.

I feel so overwhelmed with the enormity of the task of getting my life back in good order - financially for example - that I've whittled away everything which doesn't fit to a very austere and minimalistic routine. I eat, sleep, work and write. Most other people have their families, friends, kids, pets and other such things in their lives, but my life has been reduced to a crude cartoon.

I reached 700 words and I promised myself I wouldn't write any more.

Please, tell me if you're still listening; still reading.

 

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Why I'm Building NickBot™

8 min read

This is a story about projects...

Nick Grant

I work with a whole bunch of people who will automate anything you can possibly imagine - they're obsessed with automation. I suppose I'm an unusual engineer in the sense that I don't share the enthusiasm my colleagues have for robotic, repetitive, automated processes. If I do something just once I'm often satisfied, so I start looking for the next new and novel experience. I suppose that's why my skills are always in demand: Because most engineers want to build something that they think is going to last forever, but in reality there are always unforeseen problems. I take particular pleasure from diagnosing and fixing the gremlins that were never supposed to exist, making software scale up in ways it was never designed to do, and doing the dirty work of keeping the lights on.

How I came to be working as a software engineer and how I came to be a writer, has nothing to do with the pursuit of a childhood dream. I was simply inspired by a schoolfriend. Whatever he was interested in - which was writing, journalism and computing - was something that I became interested in.

It seemed obvious to put my programming skills to good use, once I'd found a problem that I wanted to solve: How do we let people who feel worthless and suicidal know that we care that they're still alive? It seemed like technology could easily solve this problem.

I built something.

It was just software. There was a Facebook page and a Twitter account, and behind it was a little piece of software.

It worked.

But, nobody really cared.

People build cool apps every day. In fact there are thousands of new apps being released every day. When I started building iPhone apps in 2008, there were just a handful of new apps every day, and everybody with an iPhone could check out the new apps to see if there were any good ones. Now, there are not enough hours in the day to download and try out all the apps that are released. We are completely overwhelmed with a deluge of new apps and websites that spring up every single day.

So, I decided to build something that very few people could build: A project so ambitious and substantial, that nobody except an eccentric rich fool would embark upon, because it was nothing but a folly. I decided to write.

People write every day. There are millions of people who call themselves writers. Some of them will actually publish. There is vastly too much published each day, to be able to read it all: It's the same overwhelming deluge problem, faced by anybody hoping that their new app will get noticed, in a crowded market.

However, the combination of vast amounts of experience, with an enormous variety of different technologies, plus the hard work of having written and published a substantial body of text, could provide a reasonable launchpad for something.

It takes next to zero effort to set up a Facebook page or a Twitter account. Thinking of a name, choosing a profile picture, writing a short bio... all those things are easy.

Building a following is something that's fairly easy to do, but is not quick to do. You have to offer something that people want, and you have to keep giving people what they want, so they keep coming back, until you reach the point where growth becomes organic; viral.

So, writing every day is the bait; the lure. You'll see it all the time - suddenly your favourite funny meme page, cartoon strip, inspirational quote tweeter or Instagram influencer is trying to sell you something. It's the old bait-and-switch trick. Sometimes you follow artists, but artists need to eat. You might be offended that they try to sell you a T-shirt, a mug, a book or some other branded merchandise, but how the hell do you expect them to pay their rent?

So, that leaves me.

I've kinda got the time and money - as well as the skills - to take on a ridiculous project that has no profit potential: Build a folly.

But what is this folly?

Perhaps it's already built, for me, at least. I tried to kill myself but strangers from the internet saved my life. When I was about to go bankrupt, a stranger from the internet lent me money. When I was about to become homeless, a stranger from the internet offered me shelter. Lucky me.

I can't tell you to follow the same path that I did, if you're in trouble, because that would be recklessly irresponsible. I nearly died so many times. I could so easily have ended up penniless and sleeping rough.

I need to do something I hate doing: automating stuff.

It seems like a nice problem to have, to have gathered a group of people who have enough empathy and compassion to go out of their way to save another person's life, but I also know that I ended up in the situation where I was totally alone in a strange city, and I tried to kill myself. I've had enough brushes with death to know that those people we sorta-used-to-care-about can drift away and become I-wonder-what-ever-happened-to people. In fact, it's an inescapable inevitable part of persistent depression leading to suicide, that the people whose lives are at risk, will withdraw from actively staying in contact with their support network.

After a while, we get tired of tagging our friends in the Facebook comments section of things which remind us of a certain person. After a while, we get tired of sending messages that go unanswered. After a while, we get tired of 'liking' their stuff, but seemingly getting nothing back. All the attention dries up very quickly, when we go quiet and disappear into the darkness.

What I want to build is something that accumulates the longer somebody has retreated inwards, cutting themselves off from the world. What I want is to build something that focusses the attention and reminds those-who-used-to-care that there's somebody slipping away. What I want to build is something that aggregates all those people who care into a miniature ad-hoc crisis support group.

Am I explaining this well enough?

When I was in a coma on a ventilator, in a hospital intensive care ward, I had no idea that I was being discussed. I had no idea that people from all over the world had been in communication with each other, trying to find out if I was OK. Friends, old and new, learned of my predicament and they tried to find out what they could: Where was I? Was I OK? Was I alive? What happened?

However, I had a very poor prognosis. My chances of survival were 30 or 40% according to the medical team who saved my life, when I spoke to them afterwards.

It occurred to me that technology and automation could do a lot of the "heavy lifting" of figuring out who's drifting away, allowing us to respond and bring the people we care about back into safety and security, away from the dark place and the death.

Prevention is better than cure.

Suicide prevention is better done before somebody is suicidal, in my opinion, from my personal experience.

It's very hard to answer that "I wonder what happened to..." question for everybody we've ever cared about, because in the modern world we tend to travel further and move more often, in order to study, work, find love and find a place that suits us in an individualistic society, where traditional families and communities have almost ceased to exist.

The answer to the problem is to use technology to sift through the noise and find the really important pieces of information, while that information is pertinent.

It's no use finding out that somebody was horribly depressed, while at their funeral.

We have busy lives, and if I build anything, it should make our lives easier, not be another nagging, pestering and irritating thing, like spambots, chain emails and invitations to play Farmville on Facebook.

I am blessed with, what amounts to the time and the money to work on the project, as well as the people I need, insofar as I'm already well remunerated for work which I find very little effort. It will be a pleasure to work on something which I feel like the world needs, although I appreciate that sounds horribly arrogant and conceited. I apologise for the worthiness which accidentally spills from my mouth, when I speak on this topic.

Anyway, consider this a declaration of intent. My first fumbling stab at a plan. Some doodles on a napkin, so to speak.

Please write and tell me what you think of the idea.

Thanks,

Nick

 

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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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Our Morals: The Ethics of Revolution

6 min read

This is a story about sedition and treason...

Security vetting form

Questions A, B and C seem pretty reasonable to ask. It seems like a good idea to ask people if they're spies, terrorists or saboteurs, if they're going to tell you the truth. It seems logical to assume that spies, terrorists and saboteurs are enemies of civilised society. It seems sensible to exclude spies, terrorists and saboteurs from positions where they could be a threat to public safety.

Upon closer examination, spies and saboteurs could sometimes arguably be said to conduct their actions in a responsible way, in the course of the furtherment of their laudable objectives, in the absence of other available options. Spies exist when diplomacy and co-operation have broken down. Saboteurs exist when tyranny, oppression and exploitation are so great that a worker must throw their clogs into the loom, to save themselves and their kin. Without wanting to fall foul of the nebulous terminology, it would be remiss of me to acknowledge that a person could certainly understand the reasons for spying and sabotage - in a theoretical and academic sense - and perhaps even excuse those acts, where the outcome clearly results in a positive outcome for the greater good, according to utilitarian philosophy.

Of course, I must tread very carefully.

I have to watch my words.

What on earth is question D getting at? I once destroyed my ballot paper as a political protest at the lack of a candidate and a party for whom I wanted to vote. Does that count as "[undermining] Parliamentary democracy by politcal … means"? Should I tick "YES" to this question? Is my spoiled ballot paper recorded in "national security records" which I'm reminded my answers will be checked against? Why even ask me if you already know the answer?

Of course, the idea of asking people "are you a terrorist?" is pretty ridiculous, so why shouldn't this same 66-page form ask vague questions which are almost impossible to answer, unless you think of yourself as such a perfect citizen and well-behaved patriotic loyal subject of Her Majesty Elizabeth II, Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Northern Ireland, its dependencies and its overseas territories.

Do I believe in the Westminster system of Parliamentary democracy? Do I believe in democracy at all? For the purposes of my rational economic self-interest in the immediate short-term, within the context of filling in this 66-page form, which is of vital importance for the future of my career, the answer is "yes" for sure.

Why am I using such cautious and measured words? Why am I couching what I say in caveats and disclaimers?

The question arises: Is it irresponsible, socially destabilising or otherwise contrary to the interests of national security, to discuss the merits of 'political change' in a purely academic and theoretical context?

Do scholars who study, think about, write about and discuss alternative political systems, imply some "intent" to overthrow or undermine Parliamentary democracy. For example, in the instance that a learned professor were to stumble upon compelling evidence that there is a better system for the decision making which is supposed to improve the human condition and the lives of the masses, then is that professor allowed to discuss it; perhaps even to promote the idea? What if other academics take an interest in that professor's ideas, and they become supporters of the theory? What if this group of academics could be said to be a group of likeminded individuals, similarly swayed by the evidence and the ideas?

Have I made myself into an enemy of the state by taking an interest in philosophy, politics and economics, which has forced me to consider the question: Is our Parliamentary democracy the best available option, or should we change to a different system? Does posing this innocent question constitute an act of undermining Parliamentary democracy?

By the time we get to question F, I must surely answer in all truthfulness that I almost certainly would have - at some point in my life - had a close association with somebody who's been a member of a group or supported a group whose intent could easily be interpreted as 'offering an alternative' to Parliamentary democracy. This is about as close as I'm prepared to go, to admitting something which is against my rational economic self-interest in the short-term, for the furtherment of my career objectives.

Most of my friends are technologists. Many of my friends have created pieces of technology which must surely have undermined Parliamentary democracy. Many of my friends are the original engineers and architects - the visionaries - who are responsible for the birth of social media. What greater threat to the ruling elites has been born, since the invention of the printing press?

Terrorism and violence are hard to defend; seemingly always unethical. It's beyond the scope of this essay to discuss the ethics of violent rebellion by the victims of tyranny and oppression. I'm in too much of a vulnerable situation to say something like: "I can understand the reasons why desperate people might resort to violence, in the absence of all other options, like any cornered animal".

I may hold unspeakable views, which have no place in a civil position of public servitude. My upbringing in the company of academics, in and around the buildings of Oxford University, may well have scuppered any ambitions I might have of playing a role in the running of the country, and hopefully making a positive difference to as many lives as possible.

Even within the walls of a British university, an academic may find themselves falling afoul of laws - new and old - which are designed to punish any agitators who might threaten societal stability and the established order. The power of the internet allows compelling academic arguments to be disseminated to vast numbers of people at incredible speed, and for the public's imagination to be captured. Academic papers are no longer written in Latin and kept safely out of the hands of the hoi polloi, lest any revolutionary ideas they might be harbouring be provoked.

Do I hold my tongue for the greater good - in support of a paternalistic and elitist establishment - because it will perpetuate the state of unhappy stability, which is at least preferable to civil war? Do I speak my mind, because to do so is a privilege afforded by the unpalatable actions done in the interests of national security? If I don't take advantage of freedom of speech, am I really a patriotic citizen, loyal subject of Her Majesty and supporter of Parliament, given that wars are waged on my behalf so that I might enjoy the luxury of being able to write essays like this?

I think I'm just going to tick "no" to all the boxes, because I can't be bothered to have this conversation a second time, when I'm being interviewed by the thought police.

 

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