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

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Blogger's Digest - Day Fourteen of #NaNoWriMo2019

7 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fourteen

Three days of self-imposed isolation aboard my yacht, moored up in the marina, had passed with me spending 95% of my time in bed. My appetite was a fraction of what it normally was, but I had eaten almost everything which required no preparation: cold ravioli, beans, spaghetti hoops and other cans. My T-shirt had dried drips of tomato sauce on it and my hair was greasy and had a permanent cow-lick, from the position I had been mostly resting my head on my pillow.

After three full days of total isolation, which I suppose would not be unusual for a solo round-the-world yachtsman, but was particularly odd in a busy marina during beautiful weather, I felt as though I had a mission to accomplish which I was suitably motivated to pursue, such that I would have a shower, put on some clean clothes and head for shore.

Being alone with my thoughts for so long, I had somewhat fathomed what was at the root cause of this unexpected episode of depression: I was burnt out. It might sound rather odd, considering that I'd quit my job and had decided to spend well over a year in pursuit of leisure. However, I hadn't admitted to myself how heavily the long voyage had been weighing on my mind, and causing me a continuous amount of stress.

I should - of course - have paid the money to have my yacht transported to Greece, but I had dismissed the idea, because of a mixture of pride and also wanting to challenge myself. I knew that it would be a huge achievement I'd feel proud of for the rest of my life, if I managed to sail such a long journey myself, and that I would feel like a cheat and a failure, if I took the easy way out. I wondered whether I would appreciate the Mediterranean as much if I simply flew out there to join my yacht once she was delivered.

I had chartered yachts all over the world, and it was a great way to experience sailing in a different part of the world, for a short holiday.

This was not a holiday.

It was never meant to be a holiday.

I'd made the commitment to live aboard my yacht permanently, because I wanted the adventure and I relished the challenge, but I had been defeated by the UK winter. I had considered the various ways to make the British weather more bearable aboard a yacht, but the appeal of undertaking a very long journey was too much to resist, when it was simply an idea: one of several options which I was considering.

I decided to take the plunge and start arranging my epic voyage during the winter, when I hadn't been sailing for a couple of months, and I was missing being at the sea. With hindsight, I was over-confident and too ambitious. The process of making the arrangements had consumed me, and I hadn't stopped to consider whether I was making the right choice, because I was too busy persuading everybody that it was a great idea - I believed my own bullshit.

It wasn't that parts of the journey wouldn't be extremely enjoyable and well within my comfort zone. I knew that with even the most incompetent crew member, I could easily hop from harbour to harbour, without too much trouble - it would be fun, even on unfamiliar coastlines. The problem was that a sustained period of many of these short hops would have to be joined together, in order to make good progress. The problem was that the journey contained some difficult legs, in waterways which I would have ordinarily gone out of my way to avoid - I had no desire to tangle with busy shipping channels, or sail through straits which were famed for their dangerous currents and many shipwrecks. All the pressure and responsibility was on me, and me alone. I had bitten off more than I could chew.

I still desperately wanted to complete my epic voyage. I knew that at almost every point, now that I had made it to Portugal, I would be better off turning back than carrying on, if I simply wanted my yacht to be transported to Greece. The solution was quite clear to me, and I felt much happier that I had accepted my new decision and was putting it into action.

* * *

"Bom dia. Você fala inglês?" I said to man behind the desk in the Marina office. I had been memorising and practicing this one phrase - "good morning. Do you speak English?" - repeatedly for most of the morning, learning it phonetically using a phrasebook I had brought with me for this part of the journey.

"Yes of course. You're on berth C10, right? You spoke to me the night you arrived" the man replied.

"Oh, it's you. You sound different on the radio. I mean, you sound different from how I thought you would look" I stumbled.

"Ha" he said, politely tolerating my bumbling British awkwardness. "How can I help?"

"Do you know a British skipper called Nikki?" I asked, my face sweating and my hands a little clammy - this was extremely embarrassing.

A broad smile spread across the face of the man. "Yes, of course I know Nikki. She left this morning on Moinho de Vento."

"Vento?" I said in a quizzical tone. I knew that this meant wind, so I assumed he was using a colloquialism, like gone with the wind to say that she'd sailed away. I was crushed. I was also puzzled, because there was no wind and there had been none for several days. "But it's not windy" I said, stating the obvious.

"Yes sure. She's just taken some clients out to get drunk."

"Drunk?" I asked, still perplexed.

"Yes. She takes clients out on Moinho de Vento very often. She's the biggest yacht in the marina and she's mainly used for corporate functions" the man explained. "You don't know her?" he asked.

"Know her? I met her a few times, you know, hanging out at the marina bar" I replied.

"No, not Nikki. Moinho de Vento."

"Ah. I get you now. Tallest mast in the marina. Hard to miss her. I didn't know her name though" I said, feeling like I was making a complete fool of myself.

"Should I tell Nikki you're looking for you? I know she was trying to find you the other day. I told her which berth you're moored on. I hope that was OK?"

"Yes, fine. I mean great. I mean thanks for telling her where I'm moored, and it'd be great if you can let her know I'm looking for her when you see her."

"OK no problem. Consider it done. Everything OK? Happy? Anything else?" the man asked with big genuine smile, putting me somewhat more at ease after my ordeal.

"No. That was it. Thank you."

"Ok my friend. See you around. My name is Eduardo" the man said, offering his hand, still beaming.

We shook hands and I said "adeus" by way of a goodbye.

"My friend, I applaud you for making the effort with your Portuguese" Eduardo said.

It wasn't until I got back aboard my yacht and checked my phrasebook that I realised I had used a version of goodbye which implied I had no intention of seeing Eduardo ever again.

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Twelve of #NaNoWriMo2019

9 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Twelve

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Nine of #NaNoWriMo2019

11 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Nine

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

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

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

I had somewhat taken my eye off the ball.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was another consideration.

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

* * *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Where would I live then?"

"On my yacht, with me."

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Three of #NaNoWriMo2019

11 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why couldn't I get out of bed?

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, please" I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes. We just completed an important project."

"Working long hours?" she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Step Ten: Don't Suffer Fools

10 min read

This is a story about the hard-of-thinking...

Doorway

I have a friend who can only be described as a racist and an anti-feminist. It's worth letting that sink in for a second, and then repeating. I have a friend who can only be described as a racist and an anti-feminist. How can this be possible? How could I be friends with a racist anti-feminist?

At first, this friend began to announce his anti-feminist views publicly on social media, which was a shock to me, because I had presumed he was an educated left-wing metropolitan liberal elitist, like myself: a product of the university system, and therefore his political viewpoint and stance on such matters as racism and sexual equality could be presumed to be correct. My presumption was wrong. He began by strongly asserting his anti-feminist stance, suddenly and shockingly, in a very public manner. I did not know how to react, except through a combination of condemnation and ignoring it.

Then, this friend began to indicate a right-wing viewpoint very publicly, on social media. This was perhaps less of a shock, given that he had shown himself to hold views which I despised, on the subject of sexual equality, but it was still nevertheless, shocking to see somebody who I considered to a be well educated, erudite and thoughtful individual, sharing content which was so right wing that it was bordering on outright racism. I did not know how to react, so I used a combination of condemnation and ignoring it.

Then, this friend became openly racist, in public, on social media. This was again, shocking, because I never imagined that I would ever encounter a racist amongst my small group of hand-picked friends, almost all of whom have enjoyed privileged socioeconomic advantages, university educations, professions and share a similar set of politics and values. I did not know how to react, so I used a combination of condemnation and ignoring it.

After my friend had spent some considerable length of time espousing views which I found vile and abhorrent, I was faced with a choice: should I cut all ties with this friend? It seemed to me that I was duty-bound to do so. My upbringing had provided no explicit guidance on how to handle this precise situation, but it seemed as though the right thing to do would be to pretend as though I had never been friends with my friend, and to distance myself from them as much as possible; to cover up the fact that we were ever friends and to sever all ties. It seemed like I was supposed to eject that person from my bubble.

I realised that if I did eject that person from my bubble, then I would never have any insight into the mind of an anti-feminist right-wing racist, and I felt that it would be detrimental to me, given the homogeny of the views of my other friends. The views of all my other friends are all so broadly similar, that I had never encountered a viewpoint which I felt compelled to condemn, much less acknowledge existed: in my liberal metropolitan elite world, I thought that racism had been defeated, along with sexism and anti-feminism. I thought that there were only small pockets of knuckle-dragging racists to be found in the poorest and most deprived communities, where the poor brutes knew no better so I was perturbed that a person who had enjoyed such socioeconomic advantage might turn out to be such a racist and anti-feminist.

I invested a substantial amount of energy in condemnation of my friend's views, attempting to persuade him to change his ways, but I made little progress.

I considered again, whether the wise course of action was to abandon the friendship and to block him on social media; to distance myself from him and to pretend that we had never been friends. Again, I felt as though I was committing some kind of immoral act, by not tossing our friendship into the dustbin - something I felt a weight of expectation to do without hesitation, the moment that any friend said anything which was remotely incorrect according to liberal dogma. Racism, certainly, is the ultimate taboo and I knew that it must carry the harshest penalty - immediate ostracisation, and denial that we were ever friends; immediate castigation and abandonment.

Yet, I did not abandon the friendship.

Does this make me a racist sympathiser? Do I endorse my friends anti-feminist views? Of course not. Do not be so ridiculous.

Recently I've had the opportunity to probe the origins of my friend's views, and quite quickly discovered where he had erred. He enthusiastically cited the extremely strong link between race and crime, in the United States - particularly that black men are disproportionately incarcerated versus the overall number of black U.S. citizens in the general population. This, for him, was concrete proof that "the races are different" and therefore his racism was justified. Naturally, I pointed out that correlation does not equate to causation, and by far the biggest cause of criminality is poverty - the race argument is null and void: the statistical link disappears when we control the wealth variable.

My friend persists with arguments, born in the time of the eugenics movement, and pseudoscience which is regrettably ubiquitous, which appears to provide legitimate research proving a link between race and IQ. Of particular fascination to my friend was any data which showed that black people had significantly lower IQ than white caucasians. Naturally, I pointed him in the direction of how these dreadfully low-quality academic papers were published in fringe journals, bankrolled by racists, and received little or no peer review; their findings utterly discredited and the quality of the work found to be nothing better than abysmal.

My friend and I have regular conversations, and each one is at least interesting which is far more than can be said for any discussion I might have with fools who hold viewpoints, simply because of anecdotal evidence, or because the liberal media finds the narrative to be particularly popular with its readership. If I was the editor of a left-wing newspaper, read by wealthy metropolitan intelligentsia, of course I would publish news stories about black lesbian disabled homeless women being raped and murdered by the patriarchy, because outrage sells newspapers. However, the anecdotal evidence gathered by those of us who wander around with a bleeding heart - myself included - does not have any validity, beyond our own confirmation bias: we seek out so-called evidence to reassure ourselves that our values and beliefs are correct.

My patience has run out for idiots who waste my time, parroting media narratives instead of using their so-called intellect to direct their energies towards the truly important issues. Racism, domestic violence and sexual discrimination are very real and they cause terrible suffering, but to mistakenly believe - as so many do - that women, for example, are at greater risk than men, is demonstrably absurd and grossly incorrect. Men are 85% more likely to be violently assaulted. 79% of all murder victims are male. Again and again, the exhaustive research has overwhelmingly and incontrovertibly demonstrated the truth all around us, yet there are wilfully ignorant idiots on both the left wing and the right wing, who continue to perpetuate myths and lies. My friend the racist is just as bad as the former friend who chose to block me, because she preferred to live in her bubble, believing that women are the victims of the majority of violent crime and murder, when in fact the polar opposite is true.

My friend the anti-feminist racist is wrong to hold the views that he does, and I hope that one day he might be persuaded by the overwhelming evidence and convincing research, but at least he is still talking to me and I am still able to challenge his erroneous thinking. The woman who I thought of as a friend, who would characterise herself as a feminist, has actually proven herself to be sexist: to deny that male victims of violence and murder far outnumber female victims, is pure delusion, driven by sexism. To block me on social media and to pretend our friendship never existed is quite typical of a sexist or other person who holds abhorrent views which they do not wish to be challenged. Only by remaining in our isolated bubbles can our wilful ignorance persist. I have lost any further opportunity to persuade - with great ease - my former friend, the sexist, of the overwhelming body of evidence which shows the appalling situation suffered by male victims of violence and murder. This is a predictable characteristic of weak-minded fools who rely too heavily upon the media to instruct them on how they should think, in place of an intellect which they sadly lack.

My energies are presently consumed with work, health and of course, having a brief period of sobriety, which these steps partly document.

My point this evening is simple: the world is full of idiots, and one should rely upon high quality evidence and research, not popular opinion within your social media bubble. Of course, one must be careful not to fall afoul of pseudoscience and the temptation to draw incorrect conclusions from raw statistics, but provided you keep a group of intelligent friends around you, then you will at least have a better chance that any mistaken beliefs you hold might be corrected. The ignorant idiots who wish to surround themselves with likeminded fools, are no loss, and no effort should be expended upon them. I am glad that I am friends with somebody who holds detestable views, and I feel no regret for losing the friendship of somebody who holds no views at all other than the media narratives which are pedalled by the limited sources upon which they rely on, in the absence of their own intellect.

In closing, we should be reminded once more: men suffer dreadfully. The life of a man is virtually worthless. That suicide should have been allowed to become the biggest killer of men in the prime of their life, with few tears shed, is an awful state of affairs, and it is accompanied by other terrible things: 97% of workplace deaths, 78% of all murders, 75% of all suicides, 65% of all violent assaults... the list is virtually endless. Men are overwhelmingly the victims, yet this is not the impression which a person would gain, if they keep themselves inside their bubble.

It's vitally important that I maintain perspective, given that my life is at stake. This sounds hyperbolic of course, because we have been brought up to believe that men are strong, when demonstrably a man's life is extremely precarious - the evidence is overwhelming.

During the last couple of days of my "Sober October" I'm particularly mindful of the precarity of my existence, combined with a great deal of stress regarding my work and a matter which hangs over me, threatening to end my career. I feel unwell. I am in need of some winter sunshine. I need to take a break, having worked very hard for a lengthy sustained period. My future hangs in the balance and my health is fragile; my efforts and energies invested to reach this point presently count for nothing - no safety or security has been achieved, and things are as uncertain as they ever were.

With this in mind, it is with very little regret that I refuse to suffer fools gladly and lose so-called friendships, to whomsoever proves to be immovable in the face of overwhelming facts, preferring instead to treat me with sexist contempt and hold little regard for the danger my life is in.

Survival is paramount.

 

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Step Eight: Be Selfish

10 min read

This is a story about looking after number one...

Safety card

I just spent about half an hour searching for a specific picture which I know I took, because I have a photographic memory. I quite clearly remember the harrowing scene depicted, of the person crawling out of a burning aircraft. Perhaps I have muddled up some parody/meme image with my constant snapping of everything vaguely interesting, but I am certain that it was a photograph which I took and have uncharacteristically misplaced.

Why the hell is this important?

Well, every day I have to think of a title, introductory line, a rough outline of what I plan to write, and I choose what I think is an appropriate photo to accompany my piece. It might often seem like the pictures are unrelated, but very often a photograph is the thing which prompts what I'm going to write.

In today's instance, I knew what I was going to write, and I knew which photo I wanted to accompany the piece, but I couldn't find it despite a thorough search.

I imagine that many people are quite thorough and meticulous about organising their lives, and I am too, but in my own unique way. I can quickly lay my hands on on what I need, given that I have taken the various essential tasks of my life and turned them into efficient processes, despite not spending an inordinate amount of time on systematically organising stuff.

I deal with a substantial amount of stuff. I run my own business, which requires me to do monthly payroll submissions to HMRC, quarterly VAT submissions, annual accounts, self-assessment tax return, corporation tax, dividend tax, income tax, national insurance, annual shareholder statements, board meeting minutes, dividend certificates, professional indemnity insurance, 3rd party liability insurance. I live an ordinary life, which brings rental contracts, house inspections, gas and electric meter readings, tenant insurance, home contents insurance, pet insurance, car insurance, car tax, car roadworthiness testing, car servicing, car maintenance, cleaning the house, feeding the cat, scooping my cat's poops and replacing her kitty litter, recycling, bin day, mowing the lawn, composting, buying food, preparing meals. None of this is unusual, but it's not insignificant.

With the continuous unrelenting pressure to do a good job at work, and impress my colleagues, combined with the constant threat of ending up bankrupt, homeless, penniless and destitute, it's an intolerable amount of stress and anxiety, heaped upon me. Although I'm not drowning in ever-growing debt - my income far exceeds my expenditure - I don't have any job security, housing security or financial security. The position I find myself in is immutable: there are no alternative choices I could take.

"Why don't you take some time off?" or "why don't you do some unpaid voluntary work" or "why don't you switch careers?" or "why don't you study something interesting?" are all as utterly ridiculous as asking me why I don't just wave my magic wand and turn a pile of house-bricks into a pile of gold bullion. My situation is completely, rigidly, unalterably dictated by my circumstances. There is no other way to structure my life, other than the way I have done it - my life is like a prison.

Of course, I could always drop out of society, live in a tent under a road bridge, beg for money, eat at soup kitchens. Of course I have the option of becoming totally feral, and foraging for food in the forest, covered in dirt and clothed in rags. Yes, I suppose those are options which are available to me, but we must be aware that society operates a strict one-way street. Once I left society, I would never be permitted to return.

"So Mr Grant, what have you been doing for the past 6 months?" asks the interviewer. "Living in a cave" comes my reply. "Where should we write to you if your application for the job is successful?" the interviewer asks. "I have no postal address" comes my reply. Thus endeth any attempts to re-enter society, once a person has dropped out. I suppose I could get a cash-in-hand job washing cars for illegal immigrants, and sleep rough on the streets, but I think I would rather go back to my cave than suffer such a fate.

The point of this rant is that my life is finely balanced: it doesn't take much extra demand placed upon me, to push me beyond what I can cope with, given that I've already endured such incredible hardship to get here.

My journey has already included rough sleeping, hospitalisations and being locked up in secure psychiatric institutions. My journey has already included recent periods where I had no money and I had no income which is a pretty difficult place to come back from. My journey already took me to the limit of human survival, where I was in an intensive care ward of a hospital on life support in a coma, suffering from multiple organ failure.

I'm feeling pretty fit and healthy, relative to how I was before. I'm feeling pretty financially prosperous, versus the time when I had no money and no income. I'm feeling as thought I have a realistic prospect of re-entering civilised society, as opposed to crushed beneath its heel, like a bug. However, it really wasn't very long ago that I was in dire trouble, relatively speaking.

So, I have to be careful about being too competent and capable, taking on the world's problems; boiling the ocean. Only a few months ago I shunned anything and everything which would add more complexity and stress to my life, cutting things back to the bare essentials, so that I could cope. I'm little more capable of dealing with extra stuff now, but it's easy for me to get carried away. Vast amounts of my precious time can be eaten up when I try to help with some "simple" task, which is always anything but.

It's hard to say "no" as an engineer. We are, by our nature, problem solvers who like fixing stuff. We have dogged unshakeable determination to follow a complex set of tasks through to completion. What use is a half-finished engineering project which doesn't work? What use is half an aeroplane? What use is half a bridge?

I don't really know what my wants and needs are, but I know that it's very important that I fend off things of no value: things that drain my time and energy, disproportionately versus any reward I receive. My blog is an engineering solution to a problem I had, where lots of people wanted to be kept updated about my woeful life, but nobody was offering any useful practical help, so it was a massive waste of time speaking to the rubberneckers who wanted to know every gory detail, despite being completely useless, and indeed counterproductive because it was valuable time wasted which could otherwise have been put to good use, earning money or securing a place to live. If you want a soap opera - human drama - then you can read the pages of this blog, but don't bug me for your own personal show, because I don't have the time.

Of course, I love my online friends and they are very supportive, but only one or two have ever stepped forward to ever offer any real tangible thing of any use. Only one or two have ever made effort and taken risk, in order to help and support me. This is not to say that all the messages of support I receive aren't lovely, and the concern that's felt for me does lift my spirits, but I have to balance that proportionately against the effort involved. Lots of "sorry to hear you're having a hard time" messages won't pay my rent, if I'm in a financially precarious situation, so I have to prioritise work and other practical matters ahead of maintaining online friendships.

As a group of supportive individuals, of course my Twitter followers - and one in particular - were instrumental in getting the emergency services to me and saving my life, so it would be churlish and mean-spirited to complain about the 'burden' of having people who are interested and concerned my welfare. Of course I want more friends, not fewer. Of course I want to maintain a good relationship with as many people as practicably possible, but I have to offset that with the effort involved and the probability of useful, practical payoff. I could never have predicted that Twitter followers would be so swift in delivering the emergency services to me in the nick of time - although I still nearly died - and I could never have predicted that I would receive vital practical things that I needed, exactly when I needed them, due to people who've read my blog. I could never have predicted that my blog would bring me new friends, who make the effort to come and visit me. All of these things are positive, but I also need to be careful, because social media is mostly a black hole, swallowing vast amounts of time and energy, and giving very little back in return.

So, I say this as a reminder to myself: my blog is the way that anybody who's interested in my life can stay up to date, without excessively burdening me. It seems unfair to ask for your own personal update, when I spend so much time and effort crafting these written updates, for the express purpose of keeping anybody who's interested informed.

Of course 1.3 million words are far too many for anybody to read in order to "get to know me" but also somehow too few... either way, I'm struggling to survive day to day through my essential tasks of: work, sleep, eat, write.

It might sound selfish or antisocial, but this massive piece of writing contains everything you might ever want to know, if only you can be bothered to look. Don't ask for me to look for you, because that undermines the very point of having gone to such a great deal of effort in documenting years of my life. There's a search box at the top and I tag every post. Knock yourself out. Go digging. Explore - there's plenty there.

Meanwhile, I just need a simple, basic, undemanding life at the moment, because things are demanding and overwhelming and stressful enough. I don't need any extra work, especially if it's unrewarding versus the effort expended.

This lengthy blog post has taken me all day to finish, because of various interruptions, some of which were very welcome - like a phonecall from a close friend - and others were questionably useful, when I might otherwise have been spending my time doing something more beneficial for myself. Spare time feels very scarce at the moment, so it should be used wisely and efficiently. I went to a great deal of effort to provide a vast trove of information, so it irks me if that effort is not delivering what I want it to, which is to avoid having to repeat myself.

Anyway, I need as many friends as I can get looking out for me, but I have very little "spare capacity" to offer at the moment, and it's wrong to ask too much of me - the resources are out there; you just have to look.

I need to protect myself. I'm no good at saying "no!" and "enough!".

 

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Sick Of The Sound Of My Voice

5 min read

This is a story about verbal diarrhoea...

Boardroom

It doesn't take a lot to trigger somewhat uncontrollable hypomania in me - lack of sleep, general exhaustion, stress, anxiety, unusual circumstances, the company of people who I need to impress, a rare opportunity to make a contribution to something important... all these things contribute to my ability to shut the fuck up being severely compromised.

On an incredibly regular basis, during an away-day with colleagues to discuss strategy for an important project, I told myself firmly that I had been speaking far too much, and that I must keep quiet. It's not that I didn't have anything useful, valuable and with merit to say. The problem was that I was by far the most heard voice in the room and my contribution was disproportionate. I wouldn't say it was hard for others to get a word in edgewise, but my colleagues were far more hesitant and considered, and it's probable that the more shy and retiring types failed to speak, when they might otherwise have had their say, if I hadn't been present.

In many ways, it was a terrible idea that I should have attended the away day. My profile in the organisation I'm currently working for is already sufficiently elevated, and I'm well respected. There was no need for me to put my head further above the parapit. Nobody likes a blabbermouth, especially in a large organisation where there might be some individuals whose original optimism, energy and gusto has been eroded over many years of long service, leaving them a little jaded and disengaged: it's just a job, and they've long-since lost the drive and determination to change the world, which they had before joining the working world.

I'm not sure what the extent of the disaster is, having confirmed in no uncertain terms to the most influential and important people on a major project - which I was hoping to be heavily involved in - that my presence is quite overbearing; I am far too outspoken.

I hope that I'm rescued somewhat by the fact that, as a consultant, it's my job to volunteer an expert opinion. Surely, if I sat quietly nibbling on biscuits and sipping sparkling water, not saying very much, then I wouldn't be a very good consultant.

Of course, my bipolar disorder presents major difficulties in the rather tame, mild-mannered and extremely slow-moving environment of a giant organisation. The speed with which I form thoughts and communicate well-articulated ideas, is somewhat of a steamroller. I'm well aware that nobody wanted to spend a day locked in a meeting room, listening to my hypomanic ranting.

By good fortune, I spent the journey home with three colleagues who were subjected to my hypomania for the whole day, and the atmosphere was pleasant. On the final leg of the journey, I was alone with a colleague who I very much like and admire, and I imagine that there was time for him to perhaps say something, if my behaviour had been outrageously egregious, to the point that I had caused a major problem.

Alas, I don't really have any objective view on anything. I have colleagues who like and respect me, who might have a quiet word in my ear if I was in danger of overstepping the mark, but in the whole gigantic organisation where I currently work, I only have one friend, colleague and confidante, who I think would report back to me any words of warning, if I was being a royal pain in the ass, and widely disliked. I can't be certain, but I hope that person would say something to me, if they heard my name was mud.

On the basis of my own perceptions, I have embarrassed myself and my mask has slipped: surely my colleagues are in no doubt that I have a mental illness, which causes me to suffer periods of racing thoughts and pressured speech, where I cannot shut the fuck up and pipe down. I fear that I have used up all the goodwill and damaged a reputation which took a very great deal of time and effort to accumulate, in the space of a single hypomanic day.

I note that my adored, respected and admired colleague, who I work more closely with than anybody else, has been somewhat irritable since that day, where perhaps I embarrassed them, seeing as it was them who invited me along as their guest.

Who really knows? Who knows how well received a person with bipolar disorder really is in a big organisation? Us bipolar people are certainly revered and adored when there are tight deadlines and we are hyper-productive, but we are also surely hated when we are far too outspoken and full of manic energy, when others are just wanting to plod along, getting on with business as usual.

For now, everything seems OK, but I have no idea how much I've damaged my reputation, and more importantly, my popularity and the perception that my colleagues had of me; previously as a competent and capable highly productive member of the team, but now perhaps simply as an unhinged madman and pain in the ass to work with.

 

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World Mental Health Day and World Homeless Day 2019

5 min read

This is a story about annual events...

Hampstead Heath

I sometimes forget that I have a 1.3 million word repository of 4 years of my life documented in exquisite detail. Given that I have chosen to manage my mental illness - bipolar disorder - without medication, it's extremely useful to have everything written down. Memories are easily corrupted. It's easy to romanticise the past. Past traumas can be forgotten. Pain fades from memory. By having everything stored digitally like this, it's easier for me to avoid getting stuck in a cycle of boom and bust; making the same mistakes again and again.

Mental illness combined with some dreadful circumstances which exacerbated the problem, like an abusive relationship followed by an inevitable divorce, plunged my life into utter chaos. I was homeless and slept rough. I was sectioned and kept in secure psychiatric institutions. I very nearly lost everything.

Today is both World Homeless Day and World Mental Health Day. The two things go hand-in-hand, but the choice of day was a coincidence, I expect, although ironically it's quite apt.

There is a powerful relationship between mental health and other problems, such as being able to work, having money problems, having relationship problems, homelessness, drug abuse, alcohol abuse, self harm, suicide and crime, amongst other things. To say that drug addiction causes mental health problems, for example, is a mistake of confusing correlation and causation. To say that mentally ill people are more likely to become homeless is a mistake of cause and effect. As you might imagine, not having a secure, dry, affordable, pleasant place to live is toxic to good mental health - how can anybody be expected to have any kind of sense of wellbeing when one of their most basic needs is unmet or under threat?

We might dismiss housing concerns, believing that local councils and "the government" ensures that nobody goes homeless, but it's lazy and ignorant to believe that housing is not the number one concern of people in crisis. The root of all problems is not mental health or drugs, or Brexit... it's housing.

The proportion of people's wages spent on rent or mortgage payments, has steadily risen, while wages have fallen in real terms. Vast numbers of people are on zero hours contracts or work in the 'gig economy'. Unemployment figures do not tell the real story: millions of people live under constant threat of eviction; homelessness.

Do I really have to spell this out?

Living with the constant threat of losing your home is incredibly stressful.

People are working all the hours they can to try to make ends meet, and they are still only one or two missed paycheques away from being chucked out onto the streets. One hiccup and they'll be homeless. Living with that kind of daily threat creates intolerable anxiety.

If you put somebody under an enormous amount of pressure and stress, for a very long period of time, it will negatively affect their mental health. It's inevitable that the lack of affordable housing in the areas where there are job vacancies, would create a mental health epidemic.

In London, where there are the most jobs, the housing is also the most expensive, over competitive and overcrowded. Yes, there are lots of jobs in London, and they're better paid than elsewhere in the UK, but the housing is terrible quality and massively overpriced, plus there are heaps of people competing for the few place to live, and the nice places to live are virtually unattainable except for the mega-rich.

Where I currently live, I pay a fraction of what I used to pay in London, and I have a lot more space, but when my contract ends I will struggle to find another one nearby - there simply aren't as many jobs in the area, hence why far fewer people want to live here and why the cost of living is lower.

This is capitalism in action. This is supply and demand. Capitalism is maximising how much money it can extract from our pockets, before we all go insane and/or kill ourselves. Capitalism is highly efficient at creating the maximum misery, in its pursuit of the maximum profit. Capitalism is not about freedom or choice. Capitalism is about the immoral destruction of human lives, in order to deliver relentless 'growth' at the expense of our quality of life.

I'm one of the lucky ones. I have emerged from that dreadful chaotic period of mental illness and homelessness, and I now enjoy a reasonable standard of living, but I am painfully aware of how insecure my existence is; how quickly I could be turfed out onto the streets again. I'm acutely aware that my mental health cannot be taken for granted, and the pressure to keep earning vast sums of money, month after month, to line the pockets of an idle capitalist, is incredibly toxic to my mental health.

 

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I Will Work Harder

6 min read

This is a story about overwork...

Pound notes

It occurred to me that most working people use their monthly take-home income to work out affordability. Everything is paid for monthly by most of the wage-slave salarymen and women, across the country. Each month, there's a rent or mortgage payment, a car payment, a loan payment, a mobile phone payment, a broadband internet payment and myriad other monthly payments. Everything is worked out based on whether those monthly payments are affordable, as opposed to thinking about the value of the thing in question.

Instead of thinking "I can't afford a £250,000 house because I only earn £25,000" people think that they earn £1,711 per month, and so that's the maximum they can pay in monthly instalments. If the mortgage is £1,000, the car is £150, the loan is £100 and the other stuff is £250 per month, then that's £1,500 total, leaving a balance of £250 disposable income every month. That's how wage slaves do the maths. That's how wage slaves calculate what's affordable.

I'm a bit weird.

I own my car. I own my phone. I buy things. I don't pay monthly.

If I was to think about my monthly net income - after tax - and then live a lifestyle which was in accordance with that income, then I wouldn't be driving a rusty 14-year-old bottom of the range old banger of a car. I wouldn't be living in a rented house. I wouldn't be worrying about the affordability of things, because my monthly net income is vastly more than my monthly net financial commitments.

This is, of course, provided that I'm well enough to work.

My health has proven unreliable. My mental health has been a huge obstacle to steady reliable dependable consistent work, day after boring monotonous terrible day. My ability to work cannot be taken for granted.

So, I work as hard as I can, whenever I'm able to. I earn as much as I can, while I'm able to.

I don't make any financial commitments. I don't take on any debt.

This means that I enjoy none of the fruits of my labour.

I have zero status symbols to remind me that I'm very good at my job, and I'm handsomely rewarded for my efforts.

Perhaps one day I will buy a house and a shiny new car, but I always think "what if I get sick?". I can't stand the thought of having giant financial obligations, such as a mortgage and car repayments, if I'm too unwell to be able to work. My life has enough pressure and stress in it without the added headache of needing to earn a certain amount of cash every single month, lest my home and car get repossessed and my credit rating get destroyed.

It's pretty soul destroying, working really hard but feeling, weirdly, really poor. Everybody is zooming around in fancy flash new cars, paid for in monthly instalments, while I pootle along in my rusty banger. Everybody is doing home improvements to the houses that are owned by the banks and building societies, while I'm in a rented house with ugly curtains and in desperate need of being redecorated.

I suppose I have nothing to complain about, because I'm making very rapid progress. If I'm lucky, then I will start to get on top of everything and my financial situation will improve with incredible speed. I need a load of luck, because my income looks like it's going to come to a screeching halt at the end of the month, as things currently stand. The demands for my cash skyrocket if I have to leave where I live to go somewhere where there's more jobs - I will be paying double rent, double bills, and I will have two deposits, all of which drains my limited funds.

Because I want my life to be better, I will work as hard as I possibly can to get into a better situation. I'll work from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall asleep, 7 days a week, if somebody is going to pay me decent money. It's only because I think it would be detrimental in the medium-term and result in a net loss of earnings, that I don't work every hour I possibly can. Somebody would query my timesheet and gigantic bill if I started working 100+ hours a week, although I could very much use the money.

I had this situation in 2015, during the same time of year. I was authorised to work unlimited overtime, so I worked 7 days a week. I burnt out and became very mentally ill. Things did not end well.

I've worked very hard to build a good reputation for myself, and I need to preserve that. I need to hang on to the gains I've made. I need to avoid losing my mind. A quick glance at my blog from 2015 tells me that I had a catastrophic breakdown around the middle of October 2015, so I will aim to get to Christmas without incident. I will aim to calm things down. I will aim to look after myself. I will aim to be sensible with how hard I work and how hard I push myself, and attempt to maintain some stability.

I really need to take a holiday.

When the clocks change, that's a terrible time for me. The end of daylight saving is dreadful for me.

It would be ideal if I could secure my contract so that I know I have a source of income, and I could take a holiday around the time that the clocks go back. That would be ideal. That would be perfect for my health. That's what I need.

I don't think it's going to be possible.

I need to keep going.

I need to keep working as hard as ever.

I need to work EVEN HARDER because I have to get through this difficult period where my contract is ending. I need to get my contract extended or find a new contract. I need to find some work locally or else move to Bristol or London. I need to keep the money rolling in. I need to keep going.

It's been a very long, very hard road. I'm very tired.

 

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Highly Effective Lunatic

5 min read

This is a story about productivity...

Mood swings

What's the difference between somebody who delivers a big complicated project, and somebody who just has a job? It's pretty easy to just turn up at work and do what you're told. It's not hard to stay on top of your responsibilities and not get fired. In fact, it's pretty easy to go above and beyond; to exceed expectations. Offices are full of very dull and un-dynamic unimaginative and highly impractical people, who couldn't organise a proverbial piss-up in a brewery.

Unfortunately, people who've delivered any kind of big complicated project are hard to find. We are no longer a nation of people who built our own houses, or have finished other complicated tasks. We are a nation of dull-eyed drones, trudging along with the herd - living dead; zombies. The nature of work deskills us, demotivates us and makes us stupid. The nature of big organisations discourages innovation; discourages risk taking; discourages effort and enthusiasm. What are the transferrable skills which an organisation is giving you? Zero. Nobody needs you to make spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations. Nobody needs you to send emails. Nobody needs what your company does. Most jobs are utter bullshit.

Occasionally - very occasionally - the paper-pushers take a break from their interminable meetings, because they have been talking for far too long and there's not actually very much time left before a hard deadline, when something tangible actually has to be delivered, and then they panic. The people who don't do anything or know anything realise that they've left it far too late, so they scramble to find those few sought-after people who do know things and can create real tangible things.

The problem with being asked to deliver a great big complicated project without enough time to do it, is that it's pretty depressing and demotivating. Even if you have the skills, you're probably not going to be very enthusiastic about embarking upon a fool's errand. Nobody is going to thank you for delivering a project late, and nobody is going to allow you to have more time to do it, but very often you will have no other choice than to work on a project which is doomed from the very outset.

Invariably, big complex projects are doomed to be late, and utter failures.

This is where lunatics come in.

Assuming an 8 hour working day, it would appear as though the limit on productivity is 3 times more - 24 hours. So, assuming that a team has to be 5 times more productive, it's impossible for them to deliver, because there aren't enough hours in the day. However, lunatics seem to be able to be at least 5 times more productive in an 8 hour day.

Of course it's impossible for anybody to work 24 hours a day for any length of time, but it's quite possible for a lunatic to work 16 hours a day for a hefty period. If you combine the lunatic's higher productivity with longer hours, then suddenly you have somebody who is 10 times more productive than your average dull-eyed brain-dead zombie drone. This is how big complicated projects get delivered, despite impossible deadlines.

There's a cost to the mental health of anybody who has to work, repeatedly, under such stress and strain. The boom and bust nature of it; the hopelessness of the situation followed by the jubilation of success, after so much slogging away against the odds, takes its toll on a person. It's not at all good for a person to be subjected to such extremes, but it's good for organisations and so it's celebrated and encouraged - the people who can pull off the delivery of big complicated projects are highly rewarded and much in-demand, even when they're a little shop-soiled and driven mad by the exercions they've suffered.

I woke up very depressed this morning. I'm depressed because I've delivered the project I was working on and it's working really well. I'm depressed because all my hard work paid off and the project is a big success. I'm depressed because the desperate race to have everything finished by the deadline is over - things were delivered on time. The pressure is off. The project is pretty much over. That's depressing.

It shouldn't be depressing, but it is. When you get yourself into that mode where you're working 16 hours a day and you're 10 times more productive than the dull-eyed brain-dead zoned-out zombie corpses who trudge along doing very little, then it's hard to adjust when the deadline is reached and the project is successfully delivered.

If I was in a better financial situation - more secure - then I might take some time off to rest and recuperate, but I have to keep earning a huge amount in order to get into a decent situation, in order to catch my breath. I can't stop and think about what's best for my health and wellbeing. I don't have that luxury.

I just have to hope that another huge challenge comes along, so that I can avoid sinking into a massive depression which will ruin everything; all my hard work wasted.

 

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