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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.

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Unprofessional

3 min read

This is a story about trash talking...

Post-it note

I have spent a whole bunch of evenings talking with a colleague. We have talked for hours. I suppose I have become somewhat habituated into gossipping with this buddy of mine. Regularly throughout the day, if there's anything which would be unprofessional to talk about with my regular colleagues, I can chat to this other colleague, because they read my blog and we talk like friends; I trust them, that my mad rantings and ravings will go no further - it's a safe space.

Then, I wrote something in the wrong chat. Instead of my message going to my colleague, it went to my entire team, plus some others too. What I wrote was deeply dubious, even by my usual standards, in that I named somebody specifically by name. What I wrote was really unprofessional.

I deleted the message, but people saw it.

It wasn't there for long but everyone saw it.

I'm mortified.

It's my own stupid fault for breaking my golden rule of not naming any names. It's my own stupid fault for breaking my rule of wearing the corporate mask the whole time; never letting down my guard. I let down my guard and I let it down badly - I shot from the hip, and I said something really dumb.

I'm now catastrophising. I'm assuming that all my hard work is undone. I'm assuming that I'm hated now, by some very influential people at work. I've acted super unprofessional, and it won't be forgotten.

Ugh.

I was doing so well.

Except I wasn't.

I was aware that my ego was becoming quite unwieldy. I was giving myself far too much credit. I was starting to believe my own bullshit. I was starting to really think that I was hot stuff; a big deal. That's a sign of sickness - a clear indicator that I'm in the grip of mania. Why wouldn't I be manic? How else could I cope with the pressure of the deadlines; the stress of the project? The heavy drinking was another bad sign - evidence that I was self-medicating heavily to try and control my mood.

I feel stuck in a terrible pattern. Yet again, I feel sure that I'm the architect of my own destruction; that I'm undermining all the hard work... that I'll be left with my reputation in tatters.

I'm catastrophising.

Having abruptly stopped drinking, I'm bound to be feeling anxious about everything, but I'm convinced I've committed an unforgivable cardinal sin and my name is mud now, at the office.

 

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Step One: Don't Buy Any Alcohol

4 min read

This is a story about losing weight...

Big Mac

The problem with saying to yourself "I'm stressed, depressed, anxious and miserable, so I am going to eat and drink whatever I want" is that you quickly put on weight. The weight I lost in July, in preparation for my birthday holiday, has quickly returned. I am unhappy about my weight again. I knew that bad diet and drinking too much alcohol would lead here, but I didn't care at the time, because the weight gain was relatively slow - it crept up on me.

I'm not overweight by any stretch of the imagination, but I'm not happy with the extra pounds I'm carrying. I'm used to my weight being under control. I'm used to being a heathy normal weight. I don't want a minor problem to become a major one.

Alcohol is the obvious source of weight gain.

I get drunk, then I get more drunk than I had originally planned, and I eat too much.

If I drink, I lose all self-control over my calorie consumption, and sensible alcohol limits.

If I drink one bottle of wine and I have another one in the house, I will invariably drink that one too. At weekends, if I drink one bottle of wine and I don't have another one, I will get a Deliveroo rider to bring me another one.

When really drunk, I always get very hungry. I always eat too much, on top of drinking too much. It's a double-whammy.

So.

No more drinking.

There's no alcohol in the house and I'm not going to buy any more.

I feel fine about that.

Earlier, in the supermarket, there was a fairly major impuse to buy a bottle of something alcoholic, but I resisted. I know that unless I start right now, I will keep putting it off and I will keep drinking more than I planned, which invariably means I end up eating more than I planned too. The pattern of behaviour is the same: I always end up abandoning my plans to drink less and eat less, when I'm drunk, and I always regret it more and more, when I look at myself in the mirror in the morning. I know that all those alcoholic drinks and drunken snacks add up to a massive amount of calories.

The stress of work, the stress of money and the stress of relationship problems, gives me all the excuses I need to drink. I've defended eating junk and getting drunk, saying that it's just for a little while: during this very difficult period of my life. But, it's going to be a heck of a long time that I'm suffering unpleasantness, and I don't want to be a big fat alcoholic when I finally pull through - that would give me a whole load of new problems to solve, which wouldn't be quick or easy.

So, the time to act is now.

Need to quit drinking.

Done.

Of course, the hard part is getting through the next few days without alcohol. The hard part is resisting alcohol on a Friday and a Saturday. The hard part is resisting alcohol, when I crave it. In a few days, I will feel substantial benefits from being teetotal. In a few weeks, I will have lost a little weight and will start to be feeling a bit better about my appearance. The hard part is sticking to the plan consistently and reliably; maintaining my determination; being consistent.

Things seem to be going quite well at work and some other things which were stressing me out don't seem to be making me quite as anxious as they were, but I imagine that my perception of things will change as I sober up - I've drunk a crazy amount in the last week, which surely must have meant that I've been pretty anaesthetised against the dreadful crap going on in my life. Having nothing to take the edge off is going to be awful, but if I don't act now I'm going to get really depressed, anxious and stressed about my appearance, which will damage my self-esteem and make me very unhappy.

So, expect further boring updates about me not drinking, and maybe even dieting a little. Can't do everything all at once, but it's time to take a decent break from alcohol, as a first step in the right direction.

 

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Functional Alcoholic

5 min read

This is a story about demon drink...

Bucket

I have placed a ludicrous amount of pressure on myself, having decided that I'm going to create a great reputation for myself by being a major player in a massive important project, for a big organisation. I've been attempting to be all things to all men, and be in all places at one time. I have been attempting to be manyfold times more productive than anybody else, in order to demonstrate beyond all reasonable doubt that I've been a major contributor and driving force behind the success of the project. I've staked my name and reputation on a successful delivery.

How do I sleep at night?

Vodka.

I bought a bottle of vodka on Monday and now it's all gone. I never drink spirits. Except I have done this week. A whole bottle.

I know this is a bad sign.

This is how alcoholism starts.

Alcohol is a terrible coping mechanism. I was very drunk last night, except somehow I wasn't. I carried on drinking even though I wasn't getting any more drunk. I woke up and I was worryingly OK.

I should have been throwing up.

I wasn't.

It's not the drinking that's so much of the worry, it's the getting used to it. When I can neck a bottle of vodka over the course of 3 evenings, and still turn up to work and be productive, then I'm on a collision-course with disaster. Not the kind of disaster where I turn up for work in a dishevelled intoxicated state - that would never happen - but the kind of disaster where I end up dying of liver failure in my 50s, having been an alcoholic for more than a decade.

I think spirits are a step too far. Spirits spell disaster. The hard stuff is dangerous.

It's been shocking, the effect of strong alcoholic drinks - I've not found a limit where I start to feel unwell, and the hangovers are too unbearable, which is very dangerous. I also have failed to find any point where I think "I've had enough" or "I'm adequately drunk". Strange, that I would never reach a point where intoxication becomes unpleasant; aversive. That's worrying.

So. No more spirits. No more vodka. I need to stop that particular stupid idea immediately.

I do have an enormous amount of stress, which is reaching its peak. The deadline is almost here. The end is nigh.

I'm not sure how my colleagues in other teams are coping. I'm not sure how people who have a lot of responsibility, professional pride and reputation at stake, are coping right now. One colleague who's worked at the same organisations that I have - notably JPMorgan and HSBC - alluded to having a similar hard-drinking predilection. Alcoholism is ubiquitous in the Square Mile. Alcoholism is notorious in banking. I've lost numerous friends and colleagues to alcoholism, from that world. It was practically a rite of passage to end up in The Priory, all paid for by JPMorgan or whoever, in order to dry out and then come back to work.

It's ridiculously demanding work, delivering huge IT projects for gigantic organisations. The alcohol goes hand-in-hand with the project work, because otherwise people's blood pressure would be too high and the stress would be unbearable. Work hard, play hard. It's all good fun, until somebody dies 10 or 15 years later from alcohol-related illness.

I've been patting myself on the back, but nobody's really officially recognised my contribution, as yet. Why should they? So many people are working hard. So many people are involved. So many people are stressed and under pressure. Why should anybody single me out as special, in particular?

I veer between feeling confident and pleased with the project I've been involved in, and feeling that there's something really fundamentally wrong which is going to ruin things. Some nights I go to sleep content, and wake up excited to improve things. Some nights I can hardly sleep with worrying about an unresolved problem, and I wake up with anxiety, not knowing whether I'll resolve the problems satisfactorily.

Taking the edge off every night, self-medicating for my insomnia and anxiety, I have been drinking far too much. I drank bucketloads over the weekend. This week has been ridiculous for alcohol consumption. It's terrible.

This whole period is terrible for my health. The pressure is relentless. The workload is relentless. The demands I place upon myself to perform and excel are huge; I'm so determined to achieve something great, to prove to myself that I'm still a talented and capable engineer, who can deliver huge projects on time with high quality.

I keep telling myself that I need to keep pushing myself, just a little longer. The finish line is in sight. Not long now.

 

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Someone to Look After

4 min read

This is a story about nurturing...

Kitty

My cat routine starts pre-dawn, being kicked and having my feet attacked. Then my cat shoves her head into my hands, forcing me to stroke her, while I struggle to sleep. In the shower, she wails outside the bathroom unless I let her in, in which case she will destroy the toilet rolls. As I get dressed she repeatedly attempts to go into my wardrobe to urinate. I go downstairs to feed her, and she desperately attempts to trip me up. She charges around crazily, whether I've fed her or not. She occasionally decides that she wants to play rough, and starts attacking my arms and legs.

Throughout all this human-cat interaction, I talk to her. Mostly "no!" and "stop that!" and other cries of shock and pain as she attacks me unexpectedly, but also I meow back whenever she is around. She seems to forget that I'm at home, and she meows forlornly in some distant part of the house and comes running when she hears me meow back.

If I'm pottering around doing chores, I generally chat to the cat, who is my constant companion.

I would be lonely, alone in my big house, but my cat is very entertaining.

I was very stressed about my sleep being disturbed, but I've become used to her being crazy late at night and early in the morning. She can be very annoying and make a lot of noise, attacking things and me, and zooming around at high speed - the drum beat of her paws sounding very loud at unsociable hours of the day - but it's become more normal and routine now. I can cope. It's almost nice, especially in the brief moments when she calms down and wants to be affectionate.

The two cats I've had before have mostly enjoyed sleeping. I've never had a cat with such an interesting personality; so entertaining. She's a nightmare, but I've gotten used to all the new rules I have to follow: I can't leave any paper or cardboard out, or it will get shredded. I can't have nice plants, or else they will get chewed. I can't have floor-standing paper lamps. I can't leave coats, jumpers or blankets lying on the floor, or else they will get peed on. It's kind of like having a puppy, I guess.

I take far more enjoyment out of feeding my cat than I do myself. I put more effort into choosing something that I think she'd like to eat than I do for myself. In fact, I spend far more time doing things for her than I do on self-care. I was thinking to myself about what toys I should buy for her. I have plenty of motivation to look after her, even though I'm neglecting myself.

Her cries are not quite as baby-like as a Siamese, but I was thinking how much her cries elicit an immediate desire to rush to her aid. She's definitely a child substitute, although not one that's going to grow up traumatised and tell me that I was a terrible father. She has a good life and she will be dead long before climate change makes the planet inhospitable, and she can't have any children. She is not tormented by existential angst. She is not deprived; she's spoiled.

If I was forced to leave Cardiff in order to take a contract in London, I would have to rehome her, which would be heartbreaking. Living without a cat again would be a major blow to my quality of life. However heartless it might sound, I still need to get another year of good earning and savings under my belt, to give me that all-important financial security I have worked so hard to get. It'd be awful, losing my kitty, but it's impossible to get a landlord to agree to having a pet in London. Hopefully I can extend my current contract or find another local contract, but I always plan for the worst.

Having a cat has helped me so much during this difficult period, where I'm having relationship problems, and I'm under enormous stress and pressure at work.

 

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Just Another Highly-Strung Prima Donna

10 min read

This is a story about arrogance...

Badge

I have spent huge chunks of my career helping the rich to get richer, not doing anything useful for society at all. I have suffered as a wage slave, working a bullshit meaningless job, doing nothing except making the world a worse place. I have been denied the pleasure of being a builder creating something real and tangible.

I'm very jealous of the engineers who get to work on useful projects - helping to feed, house and clothe the masses. I wish I was working on something more worthwhile.

The project I'm working on is quite simple really: ask a bunch of people a bunch of questions, and gather the answers so that they can be analysed. I suppose you could call it "big data" if you wanted to use an over-hyped phrase that's in vogue at the moment, but really it's just a big survey; an opinion poll.

I've developed software for nuclear submarines - that was my first full-time job. I've developed software for trains and busses. I've developed software for every school in a whole country. I've made computer games that were played by half a million people. The computer games were the hardest.

As an old-school programmer, I slaved away at my keyboard, creating the graphics, sound, music, and endlessly playtesting my games, to make them as good as possible before I released them to the general public. That was hard work.

But it was rewarding.

The challenge made it rewarding.

It was rewarding because it was difficult.

Creating an online survey is not difficult. I expect you could do one in a few minutes, using something like SurveyMonkey.

So, how do you make your day job interesting if the project is not challenging? Well, there's a lot of challenge in getting anything done in a big organisation. It's a million times harder to do anything when you're inside a big organisation, and things go painfully slowly. The interesting part is in trying to build anything at all, in the first place, and in trying not to build something that sucks, just because big organisation software always really sucks.

One programmer can make a game in one month. Two programmers can make a game in three months. Ten programmers can make a game in two years. And so on. And so on.

I'm not saying my colleagues aren't any good. I'm just saying that trying to learn computer programming as your day job, working for a big organisation, is pretty much impossible. The only way that anybody ever became a good programmer was by first being allowed to work on a whole self-contained project themselves, and having to support and maintain the code; having to deal with angry users reporting bugs; having to be up in the middle of the night figuring out a mess that they created. You can't learn that stuff if you're just a junior member of a big team.

It does make sense to break a system up into components which are then assembled to create the finished product. It does.

What does not make sense is dividing up a piece of work which could be easily accomplished by a single developer. It does not make sense to have 8, 10 or even 12 programmers all trying to work on the same piece of code. It is not fast. It is not efficient. It does not produce a good end result.

However, would I like to have to support and maintain my code after the project is live, on my own?

No.

Of course not.

Whenever I have finished something which was big and complicated, and hard work to complete, then I never want to see it ever again. However, if I'm the person who created all the code, then I'm the only one who knows how anything works, and it's a very difficult steep learning curve for any poor unfortunate who has to come after me to unpick my work.

In this regard, I suppose it's necessary to have a bunch of people, so that the 'hero' code warrior doesn't saunter off into the distance, leaving some other poor person to carry the can.

So many times in my career I have inherited somebody else's mess.

Which is why the pleasure and professional pride I derive from my work at the moment, is in the effort I put into making a system which is simple and easy to maintain, and easy to support. There's a temptation as a good developer, to be really smart and do things in ways which seem very elegant and beautiful to the trained eye of a highly skilled engineer, but are completely impenetrable to your average journeyman junior programmer, just learning the ropes. I take huge pride in creating deceptive simplicity. Yes, it's great to show off how smart you are by creating something complicated, but it's so much harder to create something that looks simple.

I am intolerant of the incompetence of a highly paid consultant who I have to suffer. "Why would you put that there?" "Why would you do it like that?" "Why didn't you read that comment?" "Why are you making such a mess of everything?" "Why have you introduced all this unnecessary complexity?" are questions I want to yell at my incompetent colleague all the time.

My junior colleagues are, well, junior. I can't get mad at people who are just learning. I have patience for learners. I spend a lot of time coaching and mentoring, helping my junior colleagues to learn and develop.

My graduate colleagues are stupendous. They have amazing ideas. They produce great work. They are smart and a pleasure to work with.

Why oh why oh why do I have to work with somebody who doesn't deserve the massive consultancy fee that they charge? It angers me that they are lagging behind the graduates and dragging the project into the dirt; making a complete pigs ear of everthing. It would be so much better if they weren't on the team, because they are so slow, and what they do produce all has to be re-done, so it creates a huge amount of extra work for me. Their work is riddled with bugs and defects. Their work is shoddy, so their contribution is not welcome: it's counter-productive.

Of course, I shouldn't rip into colleagues on a public platform. But, they ruin my day and undermine all my hard work, threatening the success of the project, so why the hell shouldn't I let rip? They're costing the organisation a shittonne of money, which is a complete waste of money in my opinion.

Anyway, I often think "would it be better if everybody just stepped aside and watched me work?". I think "would it be better if I designed and built the entire system, on my own?".

No.

No it would not be better.

I would finish the project, but I wouldn't want to support it. I wouldn't want to maintain my own code. I wouldn't want to ever look at the code ever again. I wouldn't want anything to do with my code or the project. That's not fair on the poor sods who would have to support and maintain my code.

It's also not fair for just one person to have all the enjoyment of creating an entire system, and then to ride off into the sunset believing that it's a job well done, when software is considered to be an asset - all the code will be preserved and future development teams will be forced into attempting to re-use it, when really it should be thrown away. Decrepit old systems, where all the original developers have long since left the company, should never be resurrected, but they always are. Idiot management always wants to adapt a system for a purpose it was never designed for, and that nightmare always falls on some poor unsuspecting underpaid junior programmers, who will have a horrible life, being forced to work with somebody else's code and never being allowed to create their own system.

Sure, the arrogant part of me wants the glory - the heroics - of creating some massive complex system as a one-man team. I don't want the faff and the hassle of having asshat overpaid idiot incompetent consultants, messing up my stuff. I don't want to be slowed down by people who aren't as experienced and quick.

But, I know it's better for everyone if we do things the "modern" way.

I wish I had been born earlier, so that I could have been one of those programming gods who created an entire video game, but I suppose I had that glory. The first iPhone was my opportunity to create retro games, in just the same way that the early video game pioneers did - a bedroom hacker. I grabbed that opportunity and I loved it, except I also learned that I never want to ever touch my code again when I'm finished - I want to release something and then forget about it.

In this era of the web, people expect products to be maintained. Software no longer ships on cartridges, floppy disks or CDs. Software can be updated via the internet. Software is delivered via browsers. Software is constantly being updated by the developers, like websites are constantly updated, so software development had to change to reflect this. Software development is now a team sport, but I came from an era when a prima donna like me could do everything on their own.

I fear this essay has revealed an unpleasant side of my character. I fear that I've crossed lines that I should not have done. I fear that my arrogance is on display very badly.

Still, I had to share this. It's my habit to share things that are bothering me, and/or that I feel very strongly about.

It's a difficult time, because there's a lot of pressure and stress. I feel like yelling "shut up and stand back" and "hold my beer" while I roll up my sleeves and get things done. When I come under extreme pressure and things are going wrong, I retreat into my comfort zone: working in isolation. Nobody was with me when I learned how to debug. Nobody was with me when I figured out how to solve complex technical issues. I had to figure those things out on my own. Nobody comes to me with the answers: I have to figure them out, and I do that on my own in isolation. When I get stressed, the last thing I want is any "team" - the team adds no value in those difficult situations where there's a dreadful gremlin in the system, and it does take some one-man heroics to find and fix the problem.

I've written vastly more than I intended to, because I'm very highly-strung at the moment; the pressure is immense; the deadline is imminent.

I can hear colleagues' angry voices in my head:

"You're not the only one who's worked hard on this"

"You're not the only one who cares"

"You're not the only one who's made a valuable contribution"

"You're not as good as you think you are"

"You're arrogant"

"You're full of yourself"

"You think you're so great, and everybody else is inferior"

"You're not a team player"

I know I would have had a breakdown a long time ago if it wasn't for the team. I know that the project would not have been as much fun if it hadn't been a team effort. I know that it doesn't end well when I reach the finish line and collapse; that it's not a good way to finish a project, when there are ongoing requirements for support and maintenance. I know that arrogance and delusions of grandeur are a problem for me.

Anyway, this is how I've spent my weekend: worrying about work.

 

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Emotionally Unstable

7 min read

This is a story about repeating patterns...

Quote

What am I doing? It feels like I'm making the same mistakes I've made a bunch of times before. It feels like I'm re-living 2015, and I didn't like how things went that year, so I'm desperate to avoid making those mistakes, but I feel like my mood disorder has got me stuck in an inescapable pattern.

Strictly speaking, I have two mood disorders: bipolar and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). The latter disorder means that I'm unable to escape a downturn in my mood as summer turns into winter, unless I head to warmer climate. The former disorder means that I'm prone to episodes of mania, which I always like to believe I'm in control of, because I enjoy the mania and find it immensely useful for creativity and productivity.

Looking back to 2015, at the time I felt like I was enjoying playing a pivotal role in the number one project for the biggest bank in Europe. In retrospect, I was very unwell indeed. My behaviour was quite erratic and unpredictable and it's kind of hard to pinpoint exactly why I feel like I was doing good work, now that I think about it. For sure, I helped bang some heads together and get things moving to meet some key deadlines, but I was definitely suffering very badly with a severe episode of mental illness, and I hadn't been working on the project for very long so I expect my contribution was negligible. This is what gives me a great deal of fear that I'm repeating the same mistakes: that history is repeating itself.

In 2015 I was working a lot of overtime. I was working most weekends. I was working extremely hard - long hours - and I had the additional pressure of moving house, given that I was homeless and living in a hostel. Also, it hadn't been very long since I had been in a dreadful state, with my brain chemistry completely messed up. I had terrible insomnia. I was a big mess.

Today, I have a house and a cat. My home life is comparatively settled, although I've had some relationship problems lately which have been very destabilising. My working routine is not too taxing - I have a short commute to the office, and the hours I work are strictly Monday to Friday. If I leave the office at 5:30pm, that's a long day for me. In 2015 I was routinely staying in the office past 9pm, and often to 11pm, and then staying up all night writing emails, which was not at all healthy or conducive to good mental health.

In some ways I feel that I'm in much better health than I was in 2015, and I stand a much better chance of getting through an incredibly stressful period at work without losing my mind. However, late on Friday I lost my cool at the office, and the emotions that have been bottled up started to come out, which wasn't very professional. I started to speak my mind way more than I should have done, and I started to send off messages with a scattergun approach. I stopped approaching problems in a calm and methodical manner, and instead I acted with desperation and superstition. I was afraid that all my hard work was in ruins. Strangely, I thought I was dreaming; or rather having a nightmare.

I suppose my sleep quality is compromised at the moment. Several nights a week I don't sleep well because there's a technical problem I can't stop thinking about. My dreams are all about my work. In fact, my dreams are nightmares, where I attempt again and again to resolve the problems I left at the office. As soon as I wake up, I rush to the office to pick up where I left off.

A colleague has mentioned in private that I should take it easy; not get so obsessed over the project. A colleague has correctly identified me as somebody who can make themselves sick through overwork - at risk of burnout; at risk of a breakdown. It's good advice - that I should try to maintain some balance. Becoming obsessed by work is very unhealthy.

Yesterday, I left a rambling garbled and emotional voicemail for a colleague, begging them to let me do something over the weekend. I spent time trying to find colleagues who would help me with a piece of work, and ended up getting somebody to do something for me at 11pm. It's too much. It's too intense. It's too crazy.

I have no idea if I'm eternally doomed to suffer from delusions of grandeur, and to repeatedly burn out, only to look back and realise that my negligible contribution was laughable; pathetic. I have no idea if my perceptions are warped and I'm unable to grasp just how bad an episode of mental illness I'm suffering from. It's hell being so functional, and having so much feedback which seems to corroborate all the apparent evidence that I'm being incredibly productive and useful, but yet I also have a whole load of evidence that the end result always seems to be the same: burnout, crash, disaster, destitution, destruction. Am I a fool for hoping that this time is the time when everything finally works out for me, and I get the glory I crave?

Looking back to 2008 and 2011, I was able to make it to the finishing line with a gigantic project for JPMorgan and a TechStars program technology startup accelerator. I was able to deliver, but at huge personal cost. Both times I ended up in a terrible state. I was too fixated on the specific delivery date, and I didn't think about what would come afterwards. I didn't handle the anticlimax well at all. The episodes of depression that followed the frantic manic energy which allowed me to deliver on time, were so destructive that all my hard work was destroyed... or was it? JPMorgan was able to process quadrillions of dollars of credit default swaps, using the software I designed and built. My tech startup was able to continue trading profitably and getting new customers, even though I was too sick to work. The cost was to me personally. I was ashamed that I couldn't continue to function at the same intensity, and I assumed that everyone would hate me for getting sick. I threw away those opportunities, because I assumed that they were ruined. I assumed that everybody saw me as damaged goods; unreliable and untrustworthy.

I have no idea if I'm destined for another personal disaster. I certainly worry that I won't be able to cope with the end of my contract, and the end of my involvement with the project I'm so unhealthily obsessed with. I suppose I need to mitigate against any probable crash in my mood. I suppose I need to plan ahead.

I can't imagine I'll be able to find a good contract locally. I can't imagine how I'm going to juggle my need to find a well-paid contract, with my cat and my house rental agreement. It's a stress that I really don't want to have to deal with right now. It's stress that I really wish would go away - if only my contract could be extended for another year, that would be perfect.

My life is a rollercoaster, so we would expect my mood to be too. It's hard to unpick my mood disorder from the circumstances of my life. I like to think that my mood is dictated by the time of year and other things that are going on, such as whether I'm in a good relationship or not. I like to think that my extreme moods will abate as my life improves.

 

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Addicted to Sadness

8 min read

This is a story about being deliberately stuck in a rut...

Pills

It's fairly common for people charged with healthcare and wellbeing duties to blame the victim. "You don't want to get better, do you?" comes the accusation, when somebody's feeble attempts to help have failed in the face of an intractably difficult set of problems. "You like being depressed, don't you?" comes the victim-blaming response to the failure of a person whose profession is allegedly to help sick people get better.

I read an illuminating article the other day, which shed further light on the mindset which continues to perpetuate medicine and psychology's abysmal failures in the field of mental health. While claiming to practice evidence-based treatment, doctors and psychologists have no basic grasp of the evidence, which clearly shows an epidemic of mental health problems and dreadful outcomes - complete and utter failure, no less. However, in the face of this appalling failure, doctors and psychologists have decided to blame the victims, stating that the patients who don't get better - who are indeed the vast majority - are to blame for their own illness.

The charge, in a nutshell, is that depression and sadness have become a 'comfort zone' for the sufferer, and to attempt to get better would risk disappointment, so instead these untreatable people who are intent on remaining depressed, are competing with each other to see who can be the most depressed and miserable.

What a load of BS.

It's true that I have written endlessly about how depressed and anxious I am. It's true that I've written repeatedly about my certainty that I'm doomed to failure. It's true that I've felt hopeless and helpless; powerless. I've felt like my situation can never be resolved and that my life will never improve.

I've been convinced that my life will never improve.

I've been convinced that my life will never improve so does that mean I've made no attempt to improve it? Does the fact that I spurn medication and therapy indicate that I am intent on remaining depressed and anxious? Is my negative outlook a self-fulfilling prophecy? Am I to blame for my own misery?

Yes, doctors and psychologists would love to blame me for my own depression.

I say that it is them who are the defeatists, responsible for people's depression.

I say that it is those who do not listen and do not care, who only want for quick and easy fixes, who condemn the patients they claim to want to help, to a life of misery and depression. I blame the doctors and the psychologists for the epidemic of mental health problems, because they claim to offer effective evidence-based treatment, but the treatment is ineffective. All the evidence is overwhelming: the treatments on offer DO NOT WORK and often times make the patient's life much worse.

The solutions to the mental health epidemic are as complicated as our busy complex lives, unsurprisingly. The solutions do not come in the form of a pill or a simple cognitive therapy. The solutions are not simple, because the problems are not simple.

The world is addicted to my productivity. The world is addicted to my mental illness. The world does not want me to be well. The world wants me to be sick.

Yes. That's right. The world wants me to be sick.

The rat race is incredibly stressful and is tailor made to create mental health problems. Capitalism is incredibly toxic to mental health. Yet, we cannot discuss these things. Instead we must blame ourselves. Instead we decide it is us who is badly adjusted to society, and therefore it is us who is defective and needs powerful psychiatric medications to 'correct' our faults.

Obviously, when more than 50% of the population is struggling with some kind of mental health problem, then we can see that society is defective, not the individuals.

We ask mothers to leave their children in the hands of strangers, in order to commute long distances and work in offices. We ask fathers to miss out on seeing their kids grow up, because they have to spend so much time away from home, working. Our houses are a crippling financial burden. The lengthy commutes are stressful in rush hour traffic and jostling in crowds on packed trains and busses. We leave the peaceful rural countryside and journey into grey polluted overcrowded concrete centres of commerce, where the noise and the lights and the huge number of people is an assault on our senses.

We aren't supposed to live like this.

We aren't supposed to spend our whole lives fighting so hard; struggling. We weren't built to be so distant from our families and our communities, living lives of quiet desperation in concrete jungles, with so much stress about money. We were never evolved to spend so much time commuting, bored, working bulls**t jobs in offices. It's unnatural. It goes against our fundamental human nature.

We tell ourselves "it's not forever" as we attempt to pay off enough of our mortgages and save enough money into our pension pots to be able to quit the rat race, but the truth is that it is forever - we can never quit the rat race, and that's depressing.

I am making a little progress. I can see some light at the end of the tunnel. My quality of life has improved an immense amount versus a year ago, when things were much more precarious. In a year from now, with a little luck, I might finally be enjoying a little financial security, and therefore be a lot less stressed.

My problems are simple enough, but not simple enough for those who think that there's a pill which can almost instantly cure all my problems. My problems are simple enough for anybody who takes the time to stop and think, but who has the time? Much easier to just suggest that an hour of therapy a week is adequate to solve my rational depression and anxiety about the unbearable unpleasantness of the rat race and the abysmally awful situation which capitalism creates.

I will have no hesitation in ceasing my misery-filled essays, once I have escaped the source of the misery. I am not addicted at all to feeling sad. How preposterous to suggest that I enjoy feeling depressed. How offensive to suggest that I'm to blame for my own unbearable feelings.

I choose not to feel sad, depressed and anxious. I choose happiness. I choose joy. However, these choices are not available to me: it is necessary for me to work long and hard, in intolerable conditions, in order to be able to choose happiness. At least I have an opportunity to achieve financial security, when most people do not.

Of course I would love to solve the world's problems. I can see that society is producing an epidemic of mental health problems - the evidence is overwhelming. I would dearly love to be doing something to improve the human condition, end climate change, end poverty and generally allow people to live happier and more fulfilling lives, but I realise that it's impossible. I assure you that I work extremely hard, attempting to improve my own situation, but it takes a lot of time. I've made extraordinary progress, but there is still a long way to go, and there are regular setbacks.

In some ways I wish that my situation was more hopeless, so that I would feel enabled to do whatever I wanted. I feel as though I am duty-bound to pursue the great opportunity that has been presented to me. I am lucky enough not to held back by black marks against my name, such as a bad credit score, a criminal record, a bankruptcy or other things which condemn so many people to a life of poverty - they will never be afforded the opportunity to earn large sums of money, and therefore to be able to escape poverty by the conventional route. It would be somewhat immoral of me to throw away my good fortune and allow myself to be eaten by the vultures, when I still have the opportunity to work my way out of my intolerable situation, although it's incomprehensibly awful to work your way back up from the bottom, with the constant threat of failure.

I most definitely do not live in the 'comfort zone' of hopeless depression. Instead, I live with the unbearable anxiety and stress of trying and struggling, knowing that all my effort might be wasted, due to a single setback. Yet, I do struggle. I do try. I most definitely am ploughing every ounce of energy that I possess into attempting to escape my dismal plight.

Please stop blaming depressed people for their own depression.

 

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Decompression

3 min read

This is a story about deadlines...

Thames

I used to spend my lunchtimes eating my sandwiches by The River Thames. I can remember vividly how miserably depressed I was; how bad my suicidal impulses were. I was desperately bored and the project I was working on was doomed to failure from the very beginning, due to its tiny budget and unrealistic deadline.

Presently, I am working on a very exciting project. Well, it's not very exciting to most people, but I find it very exciting. I am much happier, because the current project has a chance of being successful, although the deadline was fairly unrealistic.

I've worked hard for a sustained period of time and I'm quite tired, although it did help having a holiday a month ago. I've worked hard but the stress levels have not been too bad. I've worked hard but I've felt productive, and I'm happiest when I'm busy, so that's fine.

It occurred to me that I will feel quite lost when the project ends. I made it my personal mission to deal with some fairly fundamental problems with the system I was working on, which were threatening to cause issues with the project. The solution required somebody to roll their sleeves up and do something drastic, which was a risk: nobody ever got fired for plodding along doing the same old thing, not rocking the boat. If I had been involved in a significant expenditure of time and effort which had subsequently turned out to be a bad decision and a failure, I imagine that I would have been shown the door quite swiftly.

My gamble paid off, and now things have progressed on the project many times more quickly than if we were hamstrung with the limitations of the old system, plus I feel very proud and motivated by my sense of ownership; my contribution to the beating heart of the project.

Of course, it's not my circus; not my monkeys. I will need to step away from everything in a couple of months. In the blink of an eye I will leave the organisation - services no longer required.

It's Friday and it's been a very intense week at work. I've produced a lot. I have been multitasking and context-switching an incredible amount. It's been exhausting but it's been rewarding.

Switching out of "work mode" and into weekend relaxation mode is a little difficult. Switching off is hard. I was tempted to work late, but I knew that would be unhealthy. Slow and steady wins the race, I try to tell myself.

So, I'm spending my weekend trying to decompress.

 

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Cat Fancier

4 min read

This is a story about my fur baby...

Cone of shame

My job is incredibly intense at the moment and I'm at risk of becoming excessively obsessive, but when I see my cat's cute face greeting me when I get home from the office, I'm able to switch off and relax a little. There are things which are causing me a lot of stress at the moment, like an uncertain financial and housing situation, but it's all a little easier to bear in the company of my lovely cat.

I wondered whether I had made a big mistake, getting a very intelligent breed of cat, because her personality is so different to the moggy I had before. Repeatedly wetting the bed as well as being relentlessly hyperactive, I felt that I was getting far more of the downsides of pet ownership, with only a very limited amount of upsides: it seemed very rare that she wanted to sit and be stroked. I wondered whether I had taken on a bigger responsibility than I had expected - and been used to in the past with cats - with none of the rewards that I was used to from my previous cat.

She is very annoying.

However, I have gotten used to how annoying she is. Now I have begun to enjoy her character.

At least once a night, she will have a manic episode where she will decide that she's going to attack me. For a period of 15 minutes to an hour, she will attack my hands, arms, feet or indeed anything that she fancies, such as my legs, knees, or simply my torso. She will bite, scratch and kick me. She will jump on me and wind me. However, it's all rough play and she doesn't mean to hurt me, although she does draw blood. If I want her to stop, she does... but not for long.

Multiple times per day she will attack my houseplants and other fragile things, such as some tall lamps which have paper shades, now utterly destroyed. She does not attack these things when I'm not around. Not wanting to anthropomorphise, but she wants to provoke me: she annoys me for her own amusement. It's a game to her. It used to stress me out but now it's become kind of funny... since I've accepted that I can't have nice things anymore and I've given up being precious about my stuff.

She wants to be with my, wherever I am. It's very nice having a little shadow, following me around. She meows and I meow back. Sometimes she wanders off and then feels lonely, so she meows and then comes rushing to find me when she hears me. She's a very sociable animal.

Since she's been wearing her cone she's not been able to scratch behind her ears, which is something she gets me to do for her. She has an insatiable appetite for behind-the-ears scratching.

Once or twice a day she will have a period where she is desperate to be stroked, and she will force her head into my hand, whatever I'm doing. Typing becomes impossible. Resting comfortably becomes impossible. Sleep becomes impossible. If I sit or lie on my hands, she will burrow furiously in order to push her head repeatedly into my hand, urging me to stroke her. It's so adorable and impossible to ignore.

She has started to enjoy sitting on my lap, or otherwise lying peacefully in contact with me. She has started to have some calmer periods, which are of course blissful.

Stroking her is immensely stress relieving. She also seems to know when I'm unhappy, and she cheers me up a lot. I think she's responsible for helping me to avoid complete capitulation during some recent stressful events.

In short: I'm really pleased I got her and I'm so happy she's part of my life.

 

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Mood Disorder

5 min read

This is a story about self perception...

Normal

If somebody wants to patronise and annoy me, they'd be well advised to talk about what excellent "insight" I have into my own madness. Of course I can step back and examine my own behaviour - to see how it measures up from an outsider's perspective - and of course I can pinpoint problems. After all, it's me who's had to live with a mood disorder my whole life.

The times that I forget that I have a mood disorder are the ordinary everyday ones. When I am lacking in energy and motivation, when I am consumed by anxiety and when I am otherwise decimated by depression, I remain functional and productive, so it's easy to assume that I'm healthy, happy and normal. Because I do an excellent job of carrying on regardless of how terrible I feel, even I can assume that I'm not suffering any dangerous mood fluctuations, even though I'm stalked by powerful suicidal impulses.

When I suffer bouts of mania and paranoia, I'm well aware that my perceptions are warped and that I'm not thinking normally. It's much more easy to identify pathological thinking rooted in deep mental health issues, and to compensate accordingly, because at least those extreme problems are easier to isolate. Sure, during impulsive moments I might lost control and let my issues get the better of me, but I've become very practiced and adept at self control and techniques to prevent meltdown and disaster.

Currently, my productive, creative manic energy gets ploughed into a big complex project, at work. I'm unhealthily obsessed with the project, but of course that's the reason why I'm getting so much done. I need to regularly remind myself that "it's only a job" and that I need to take regular breaks, and holidays whenever I can. Nothing will ever be as intense as founding a tech startup, so I feel pretty immune from burnout, but of course I'm at risk, just like anybody.

My mood no longer seems to follow a predictable alternating pattern of episodes, flipping between depression and mania. Instead, my mood is provoked into a state by external factors, such as stressful events. My mood is not under control, but instead it is bludgeoned into compliance with the predominant need of the day, which is to earn money. I simply can't allow my mental illness to get the better of me, lest I face financial ruin.

Of course, the net result is that beneath the thin veneer of a man in control, competently and capably carrying out his duties in the course of his career, there are violent mood swings which require an incredible amount of effort to keep in check. How on earth I manage to get up and go to work when I'm suicidally depressed, I do not know. How on earth I manage to keep my big mouth shut when I'm manic, I do not know. All I know is that I spend about 80% of my energy forcing myself to comply with behaviours which are not compatible with my mood.

I have no mood stabilisers to help me. I have no antidepressants. I've decided from many years of experience that it's easier to manage my moods without pharmaceutical intervention. Yes, antidepressants help in the short term, but it's impossible to get off them without a crash. Yes, mood stabilisers help in the short term, but it's impossible to get off them without mania. Instead, I have opted to "feel everything" - I ride the wave of every extreme mood, as it see-saws up and down.

I've attempted to make lifestyle changes to help with my mood disorder. Instead of earning dog-sh1t money and being exploited, I'm well paid for what I do. Instead of rotting in some dead-end job, I'm valued for what I do. Instead of scraping along with hardly any money, impoverished, I have opted to earn enough to not really have to look at my bank balance very often. What I really need is a substantial lump of cash in the bank, so that I don't worry about taking time off when I'm sick, exhausted or depressed, but for now I'll settle for at least not having to worry about money while I'm working. I do of course worry about what will happen when I'm forced to stop working, but I hope that the work keeps coming. My stress around my income security causes me problems, but I can't fix everything all at once.

I got bored of obsessing over my mental health, like I got bored over obsessing about my bank balance. It seems to me to be better - healthier - to concentrate on the things which bring home the bacon, instead of things that aren't profitable. Budgeting is always stressful and never profitable. My life is so much better since not worrying about spending and not worrying about medications, although obviously there are still major problems.

Hopefully I'm well positioned, given that I'm not doped up to the eyeballs on a bunch of psychiatric medications, so as soon as my circumstances improve, so will my mood.

Of course I will always have a predisposition towards mood instability: it's in my nature. However, for most of my life and now included, I do a really excellent job of managing a very difficult mental health condition, although of course I do struggle when I'm under extreme pressure and stress, like I am at the moment.

 

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