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

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nick@manicgrant.com

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Content Warning

4 min read

This is a story about shock...

Razor blade

Apparently, it's the done thing these days, to preface content with trigger warnings and content warnings. Many television programs will be followed by a message saying "if you have been affected by any of the issues covered by this program..." and accompanying telephone numbers and websites of charities which specialise in a particular aspect of human awfulness. I wonder whether it's making a difference or not.

Presumably, the issue is not comparable with, say for example, photo-sensitive epilepsy. I struggle to agree that the epileptic seizures which are caused by flashing lights, are comparable with content rife on the internet. It's routine for news-readers to warn viewers that "the next segment contains footage of flash photography" or "some viewers might find this next part distressing"... but, so far as I can tell, almost all of television is distressing in pursuit of shock value entertainment.

It's hard to reconcile the horror movies, adventure movies, action movies, celebrities eating creepy crawlies, nature documentaries and every other thing which we consume, willingly, as entertainment, with the apparent sensitivity of enough members of the public, that everyone needs to prefix everything they ever say or do with "content warning" as a preamble.

Of course, just like respecting a person's preferred pronouns, there's an element of reasonable social decorum. I do not, for example, drop my suicidal thoughts into casual smalltalk with my work colleagues. I do not, for example, regale my work colleagues with anecdotes about lying on the bathroom floor, slashing my forearms open with a razor blade; blood pissing out of multiple self-inflicted incisions. That would be too shocking.

I wonder, conversely, if I should have prefixed a simple message I sent approximately a year ago to my work colleagues, with a content warning: "my kidneys have failed".

It's hard to balance mental illness, with the unreasonable demands of civilised society. It's expected that I should behave like everything is absolutely fine, at all times, and otherwise keep my suicidal depression confined to a range of behaviour which is sanctioned by the Committee on Acceptable Conduct in Large Organisations, which is the authority on such things, making the ultimate decision on what is, and what is not, allowed in the workplace in terms of human existence expressed truthfully.

It makes sense, of course, that everybody should be so exhausted and on the verge of a nervous breakdown, all the fucking time, but nobody is allowed to talk about it. That makes perfect sense.

Not.

Content warnings and trigger warnings seem oppressive to me, in the same way as alarm clocks and the fact that it's apparently not acceptable to say "fuck off that sounds really boring" to your boss, when they ask you to do something. Things have reached a very sorry state of affairs, and I don't know why or how they got this bad.

Obviously, people who describe themselves as having "no filter" are probably just inconsiderate assholes. People who describe themselves as "telling it like it is" are insufferable twats.

We should probably try to tread a more subtle line, between making ourselves into corporate drones, masking all our our humanity, lest it make us less of a perfect career automaton, versus unleashing all of our violent mood swings and internal existential dread upon the world, 100% of the time. There's probably a happy compromise between the two extremes, which in my perfect world, basically encompasses an almost unlimited amount of duvet days. I'll happily accept buttoning my lip, provided I can stay at home and still get paid, when there's nothing worth doing and I can't face the world.

A colleague who's not spend much of his career attempting to climb the corporate greasy pole, was quite incredulous that he should have to curtail some of the more colourful aspects of his unique personality, lest his short spell in the organisation where we met, meet an untimely demise. My own working day is a near-constant battle, to bite my tongue, in order to preserve my income.

It seems reasonable that, if I was a broadcaster with a national or international reach, and millions of viewers/readers/listeners tuning in every day, then I would have to act in a more responsible manner. However, I'm just a ranting maniac who has turned his incomprehensible ravings into words published on the public internet, along with so many others that it's all lost in the sea of noise.

I'd like to say that it's all a deliberate defence mechanism, but the truth is that I really do need to vent like this, and it's mostly reflexive; automatic... very little premeditated thought goes into it, as it must be clear to see.

Oh, also: content warning.

 

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I Recant

5 min read

This is a story about irresponsibility...

Collapse

I did something which I knew was wrong. I looked at my website visitor data and it went to my head. I acted irresponsibly.

I'm just one guy, writing in my spare time.

Even if I worked full-time at this, there's a very finite limit of what I can offer people one-to-one.

With the power of the internet, I can reach vast numbers of people, but there's not a lot I can do for them as individuals. The power of a website is to broadcast, and the ability to meaningfully reply is a problem which hasn't been solved by technology yet: there is no machine which can pass the Turing Test, let alone provide effective crisis counselling.

I never promoted myself as a crisis counsellor, but I did very vociferously talk about the need for people to be able to talk about their suicidal thoughts, without being shouted down with "YOU'VE GOT SO MUCH TO LIVE FOR" clichés. I did write, at great length, about the vast numbers of people who can't find anybody to talk to who's going through what they're going through, and isn't some well-meaning busybody whose misguided good intentions are actually driving some suicidal people away. It's undeniably true: people are searching for stories which aren't bullshit fantasy make-believe nonsense about how everything's going to be OK and "this will pass soon" because people know that's not true: they've lived with suicidal thoughts for so long, that they know that it doesn't pass, a lot of the time.

However, I am not equipped. I am not equipped to read and respond to vast amounts of people's tragic stories, all day, every day. I very badly want to be able to, but my mood and energy fluctuates wildly, and so does my ability to read and respond. I can't promise to always be available to chat. I can't promise to always be able to read and respond in a timely manner.

I'm not sure if I ever made a promise to anybody, but I suppose I got carried away, and I had increasingly encouraged people to write to me. I don't discourage it, but I think it was irresponsible of me, to be reaching so many people in crisis, but yet to be so ill-equipped to deal with that deluge... it's heartbreakingly tragic that there are so many people out there in the world, searching for the "easiest" way to kill themselves.

I'm not a wishful thinker. I'm not an idiot either. Although I applaud those who say "if I just save one life, that's enough" and indeed that attitude is theoretically enough to save everyone who needs to be saved, if we all adopted that attitude... unfortunately, the statistics and data points that it is not enough. That's not to say that those who volunteer to work on crisis counselling phone lines aren't working hard enough. It's a simple statement of fact: whatever we're doing in the world of suicide prevention, is not working.

So, I'm taking an unorthodox approach. I'm writing about my struggles, without trying to create any Disney Hollywood fairy-tale fantasy happy ending. There's no happy ending to my story. My story doesn't have an ending like: "and they all lived happily ever after". Nope. This is not a rags-to-riches story. This isn't a story of recovery. If you came here looking for that, you came to the wrong place. In fact, I know why people came here, and they are not looking for saccharine-sweet sugar-coated false hope, because there's plenty of that already in the world. So many people write to me to tell me that they're so glad that they found somebody writing with honesty in a relatable way, that I'm never going to stop doing that.

My mistake; my irresponsibility... that's been in getting greedy and actively trying to get more readers. My crime is in letting the huge number of readers go to my head, and starting to think that I was doing anything more than simply telling a relatable story, with honesty.

In short, I'm sorry. I don't have anything other to offer you than my story. I'll stop being so arrogant and pretending I'm anything other than an ordinary guy, telling his own story of depression and suicide attempts, for anybody who wants to read it. I'm sorry I got big-headed and thought that I might be making a different. I'm sorry for my delusion of grandeur.

I'm going to now delete one of the blog posts I wrote, which was definitely straying into the territory of delusional; written when I was thinking that I was making a difference, in some way... when I thought I was doing something useful. Now I see that it was irresponsible.

I'm sorry.

 

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No Consequences

4 min read

This is a story about machine learning...

Up a tree

We like to believe in karma. We like to believe that evildoers will get their comeuppance eventually. We like to believe that virtue will be rewarded eventually. We like to think that there are natural laws, which bring everything into equilibrium: what goes up must come down.

Not true.

I find it very hard to objectively analyse my present situation: is it a punishment, or a reward? Is this one of the best periods of my life or one of the worst? With no absolute scale - no universal yardstick - it's impossible to measure myself, either against prior experiences, or against other individuals.

Very quickly, we get bogged down in difficult questions: is the 'winner' of life, the richest soul in the graveyard, or the poorest? We instinctively ascribe success to the rich, but we do not consider how much they might have sacrificed in order to accumulate that wealth. "Can't spend it when you're dead" goes the old saying. It's true: how much living to people miss out on, because they're saving for a rainy day which never comes?

One of my life's most treasured experiences was homelessness and sleeping rough. Of course, it was insanely traumatic at the time, but as time has passed, all that I'm left with is the happy memories; the hair-raising anecdotes; the adventures.

Perhaps I never truly believed that I was ruined; that my life was destroyed beyond repair. But, how could I have known enough about the future, to predict the astronomically remote possibility of the crucial events which helped me claw my way back from the brink of oblivion? How could I have known that things would work out OK in the end? How could I not have given up any hope of ever re-entering civilised society?

Perhaps I don't believe that I really am back. Certainly my present life is very odd, versus anybody else who considers themselves to be a fine upstanding example of a model citizen, carrying themselves through life productively, and as a valued member of society. Where are my wife, children, mortgage, car loan, life insurance, home insurance, car insurance, dental insurance, unemployment insurance, phone insurance, insurance insurance and suchlike? Where are the trappings which trap me? I certainly do not behave like a model capitalist consumer.

I am continually willing the world to block my way; to throw me out on the street; to cut off my income. I am continually willing the world to chuck me out of the club; to bar my entrance from civilised society. I am continually willing civilised society to force me out and into the underclass. I am continually willing those around me - work colleagues for example - to snap and lose their patience, and to say "you don't belong here! get out!".

I fantasise about total isolation, without a gun to my head: a little patch of ground to lie down on, where nobody will bother me, ever. I fantasise about being free from coercion.

I can forget about how coerced I am when I am busy, so I try to be frantically busy at all times. I never want to be alone with my thoughts, because I am so horrendously coerced: I'm not allowed to be idle for a single second. Every ounce of my productive capacity is milked, and then it's milked some more for good measure, but it's still not enough to pay for the privilege of breathing: somebody will slap an extra tax on me; demand money with menaces. I'm running as fast as I can to stand still, but I'm still going backwards.

Conversely, when I abandon the struggle, the dire consequences are not dire at all. While I spend most of my waking hours contemplating suicide, when I am being coerced, as soon as I collapse from exhaustion and abandon the rat race, life becomes seemingly worthwhile again: a Catch 22. I know that life is easier if you are wealthier, but it's impossible to become wealthy, because the rat race is so unbearable; unwinnable.

I live with dignity: independent, undeniably productive and industrious. I have proven beyond all reasonable doubt that I'm as good as anybody at this ridiculous game, but what good has it done me? I still go to bed alone, exhausted, anxious, afraid, depressed, isolated... but I also have the knowledge that, at all times, I can flush the whole stupid mess down the toilet and I'll be fine... better than fine, in fact... it will be better when the time comes, to cut loose from this coercive life.

 

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Church

5 min read

This is a story about assisted dying...

Roof

Having spent an extraordinary amount of time thinking and writing about suicide, as well as receiving a massive amount of emails from strangers in crisis, contemplating killing themselves, I don't claim to be exactly the same as a doctor who has specialised in euthanasia, or a crisis counsellor, but it's quite possible that we might have spent the same number of hours contemplating the same subject. My ignorance is not better than anybody's knowledge, but we are, after all, talking about the unknowable. Anybody who claims to know the unknowable is a charlatan.

The original charlatans would have been witch doctors and shamen, I suppose, claiming to have magical powers. Later, with the decline of magic and the rise of organised religion, the charlatans were, and indeed still are, priests. Debatably in modern times, there are [some] doctors who are charlatans. Anybody who says that doctors are scientific and evidence-led, has not met [enough] doctors, and truly understood their role and behaviour in society.

Of course, it's incorrect to say that the practice of witch doctors, shamen and medical doctors can be dismissed as equally groundless. In fact, we can ignore the obvious stuff - surgery, effective treatment for infection, life-support techniques - and look instead at what's common between the voodoo conjurers and your family doctor: neither of them will save your life, or the life of your child[ren], but both enjoy high social status, and we believe that they possess a power which they do not, which perversely can have a positive effect on our superstitious human psychology.

We must, for a minute, acknowledge that it is better to be soothed by a priest, telling us that we don't have to be afraid of death because we are going to heaven, or indeed soothed by a doctor who is telling us that everything is going to be OK because 'medical science'. Neither, in fact, possess the means to ease the burden of mortality, nor any knowledge to transform the human condition, beyond assistance in invoking a person's own capabilities of inducing a delusion: namely that life is anything other than a meaningless, godless existence, which ends with pain and terror.

Most of us will be so frantically pounding on life's treadmill, that we will scarcely have a moment to contemplate mortality, and if we do, it will be in the context of soothing the anxiety of our elderly relatives, and young children. The contemplation of our own individual mortality is a rich-man's hobby, and therefore something which only a very small percentage of the earth's inhabitants will ever have the wealth and privilege to do.

I might be such an idiot that I'm unable to correctly perceive and comprehend the depth and breadth of my own stupidity and ignorance, but, you would be foolish to deny that I have not had a lot more time to consider things than you, given that I have not been spending the majority of my waking hours attempting to shovel baked beans into the face of my grubby progeny.

It's banal and routine to ridicule first-semester philosophy majors, in the North American parlance, for thinking they just solved all philosophical problems at the first attempt. However, once you've figured out that we all end up as worm food, and all of human history and evidence of any human existence, will be obliterated so completely it will be as though humanity never existed, frankly, then at that point, all philosophy starts to look the same; equally absurd and meaningless.

Of course, subscribing to a certain life philosophy, or indeed a collection of different bits of philosophies, can make the difference between bearable or even very pleasurable periods of existence during a short mortal life, versus the unspeakable horror of experiencing the futility and meaninglessness of everything, raw and unfiltered, until you finally, gratefully and gladly expire.

Human inventions, like the wheel, sprung up independently in different times and places. No one human can ever claim to have a monopoly on, for example, a particular philosophical thought, because that thought can be arrived at independently.

To claim that religion and medicine - or at least, doctors who don't practice any medicine, but merely occupy the high-status role, dispensing ostensibly worthless advice - are totally and utterly without value to humanity is entirely wrong: they are valuable. The church keeps a great deal of humanity occupied with futile pursuits, but we must ask ourselves if it's truly futile, if it occupies people when they might otherwise become, like me, preoccupied with their own mortality. Many medical doctors practice a new form of religion, where we worship them and elevate them well beyond their capability to forestall or otherwise arrest our inevitable death, but is their value over-estimated, if our irrational belief in them eases the passage of our lives.

I wish, very often, that I was stupid enough to believe in god, or doctors.

 

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The Expectation of Better

5 min read

This is a story about strategy...

Risk

We might say, unquestionably, our lives are better today than the lives of our grandparents; our quality of life is vastly better than when our grandparents were the same age we are today. Infant mortality and deaths in childbirth are vastly reduced, antibiotics and vaccines have virtually eradicated major diseases, food is abundant, high quality, tasty and nutritious, war is almost a forgotten memory; certainly the horrors of war are long forgotten... the proliferation of jingoistic moronic idiotic imbecilic poppy-shagging flag-shagging brain-dead meathead pillocks, is alarming, and those utterly brainless waste-of-space people think that war is glorious; they romanticise war.... however, there is only a tiny fraction of the war we once had, and that's a really good thing.

Thinking about things a bit more, however, we cannot say that universally life is better. It depends what you value. If you value a job for life, a good pension, community spirit, lifelong marriage, affordable housing, pleasant and rewarding work, beating your wife, beating your children, beating homosexuals, beating Black people, beating Brown people, imprisoning homosexuals, murdering criminals, oppressing women, murdering, beating, and oppressing the native inhabitants of the far reaches of Empire, and other 'old fashioned' values, as well as watching a substantial number of children die before reaching maturity, women dying in labour, masses of people dying from preventable diseases, shorter lifespans... if that sort of thing is more your cup of tea, then yes, maybe life has got worse.

We might consider, on a shorter timescale, whether our own life is getting better or worse. My own situation is mostly unchanged: I would have been able to afford an apartment in very central London as a twenty-something, and I could still afford that same apartment today, but it would swallow a larger proportion of my income, and I would have to cough up a larger chunk of my life savings as a deposit. We might consider the realistic prospect of me retiring: in my early twenties it looked likely that I would retire at age 50, in considerable comfort. Now, retirement at 75 would be possible. I suppose my options have not disappeared altogether, but I am a highly unusual individual; highly atypical.

Perhaps it is my expectations which are wrong?

No.

The range of my expectations includes committing a victimless crime - defrauding a bank or other parasitic organisation out of such a tiny fraction of their exorbitant profit that it wouldn't be missed by anybody - and either netting myself enough money to retire, or a custodial sentence to provide food and lodgings for the rest of my natural life: a win-win situation. At the bottom end, my expectations also include homelessness, and indeed sleeping rough, both of which I am all-too familiar with: they hold no surprises for me; I know what to expect. At the top end of my expectation range, there's nothing more than owning a dwelling of some kind, and having enough money to eat and pay the mandatory minimum bills... better than a prison cell or whatever shelter I could manage, sleeping rough.

This, again, is very atypical.

If we study most of humanity, we see that the strategy is very different. Most people are engaged in the bestial pursuit of making copies of their genes through offspring. Most people are in denial about the decline in living standards, and are attempting to use their sharp elbows to barge their way through the crowd, in the delusional belief that they'll be able to - through sheer willpower - bend reality to meet their psychotic hallucinations. "This will make for a great anecdote during your interview at The University of Oxford, dearest little Joshua" parents will be saying to their children, as they scavenge through a burnt-out supermarket in the shadow of derelict skyscrapers, unable and unwilling to ever accept that thrusting their progeny into the middle of the post-capitalist collapse of global civilisation, was perhaps the most stupid and selfish act ever committed by a supposedly sentient creature.

Conversely, you might think that I am stupid for not having children and shackling myself to a job that I hate for the rest of my life, in the hope of receiving a measly pension in the twilight years of my life, which I won't get to enjoy because of heart disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. I am prepared to consider that maybe it's me who's got things wrong. Except, you'll have lots of time to think about it, until your dementia sets in, whereas I won't have to think about it at all, because I'll be deliberately dead at my own hand, having avoided my own suffering, and having avoided inflicting life's suffering onto any innocent children.

These are not original ideas, of course, but we would be wise to consider the alternatives to what might appear, at first glance, to be the obvious answers.

 

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Minor Discomfort

4 min read

This is a story about unrealistic expectations...

Cleaning cupboard

I'm not sure where this 'unrealistic' thing came from. Realistically, we will succumb to a horrible disease, and then die. This much, our parents knew for certain when they decided to have children. Realistically, our parents knowingly condemned us to a life of deprivation and want; disease and death. Realistically, our expectation should be to die in fear, agony and discomfort, after struggle and suffering.

Is there any point in counting our blessings? Why not count our curses? Either option is comparably meaningless as a mortal creature in a godless universe.

I wonder how frequently a minor inconvenience seems sufficient grounds for suicide, to me. Certainly in the past few years, I've been so consumed with horrendous anxiety over 'trivial' life events, that I've lived with near-constant suicidal depression. I've lost count of the number of times that I've promised myself that I'll end the suffering if a certain unfortunate event occurs. I've lost count of the number of times I've felt, for a moment, on a knife edge about to end my life, triggered by seemingly the most minor of things; the most inconsequential and hard to fathom, for those who aren't troubled with such extreme sensations.

It's hard to know if things are getting better or worse. Certainly, I overcame problems with moving house, potentially losing my income, some invasive background checks, plus the hurricane-strength headwinds of debt and other money worries, which completely eroded any hope and sense of wellbeing, constantly. I dealt with breakups, losing my cat, a car which had to be scrapped, another car which got crashed into, multiple organ failure... you know, that kind of stuff. Normal everyday ordinary kinda stuff.

I'm no fan of the contrived platitudes about counting blessings, or suchlike idiotic nonsense. However, it did occur to me that I'm grateful that, for example, I have no need to deal with doctors or dentists; I have no need to deal with solicitors; I have no need to deal, on the whole, with the general public. I suppose it's a somewhat charmed existence, certainly versus being one of the oft-mentioned starving African children, or indeed the one any only person on the entire planet who's got it worse than everybody else, and therefore by extension is the only person out of nearly 8 billion, who's legitimately entitled to complain or feel sorry for themselves: everyone else has to suck it up and "count their blessings".

I reserve the right. I reserve the right to complain. I reserve the right to feel sorry for myself. I reserve the right to kill myself, whenever I want. I reserve those rights.

It seems to me, that the only way that humanity's self-awareness can be balanced, along with the curse of intellect which allows the perception of the futility of existence, is with the ability to end one's own life. Sure, vast swathes of humanity are too stupid and ignorant to be cursed with the comprehension of the awfulness and meaningless of existence; afflicted by angst, ennui, anxiety, depression and other horrors visited upon those who are elevated above the level of rutting beasts. Sure, it would be soul-soothing to be swept up in the mass hysteria; too busily acting like a slug or a wasp, intent on passing on its genes, like a mindless beast... sure that would obviously be better, in terms of personal suffering, but it's unethical to knowingly inflict such awfulness on an innocent victim: namely those children who did not consent to be born, nor indeed should have been born into such a dreadful world. There is no excuse for the crime of bringing children into this world, to suffer and die afraid, in pain, after a life of struggle, discomfort and unmet want.

I suppose it's an incredibly unoriginal and banal observation, that organised religion provides a convenient but provably wrong fantasy for those who wish to justify and forgive their own wicked deeds. You might argue that morality is the sole preserve of organised religion, and in a way you are right: there are no supernatural entities who sit in judgement over any of us; there is no objective morality; everything is permissable, within the confines of the universal laws of physics.

So, in conclusion: commit suicide, or commit murder, or don't. Nobody gives a shit. Nothing matters. Life is meaningless and all human history will be obliterated such that any and all existence of humanity's existence will be utterly undetectable; totally and irretrievably destroyed.

 

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Dreading the Weekend

4 min read

This is a story about time as an enemy...

Clock

I suppose almost all of us live for the weekend, or the equivalent: the working week can't pass quick enough, and our precious leisure time doesn't last long enough. "Is it Monday morning already?" we ask ourselves rhetorically, with disappointment in our voices.

Not me.

Although Friday does hold a special significance for me, it is only that I have successfully completed another billable week, earning myself a chunk of cash, which takes me a step closer to financial security. Given the choice, I would work 7 days a week, in order to achieve financial security 40% quicker. I do not look forward to the weekend, at all.

Of course, it doesn't help that my social isolation has increased, from one extreme to another: I never see another soul, at evenings and at weekends. The only people I see are strangers at the supermarket. The only words I exchange - in person - are with the cashier at the checkout. Given that I shop for food roughly every three weeks, that's an existence which is more extreme than almost anybody on the planet. A goddam Tuareg in the Sahara sees more people than me; has more social contact. A goddam monk who's sworn an oath of silence has vastly more social contact than me.

could theoretically do something about it. For sure, I could join a book club; I could become a train spotter; I could develop an interest in ornithology; I could dress up as a superhero and go to comic conventions: the world is my oyster, but - so it would seem - I'm not seizing any of the infinite opportunities open to me, to build a real-world social network.

Why not?

Why am I not out there in the big wide world, making friends and meeting people?

I have, for example, deliberately decided to be single for a while. All of the COVID-19 stuff seemed to be making dating very complicated, what with various lockdowns and restrictions on the lives of single people, and besides, I wanted to lose some weight: restaurant meals and alcohol were never going to allow me to lose weight. Also, there's nothing quite as crazy-making as people. Recently, I was the victim of a tirade of abuse, for example, which was completely unprovoked; unjustified. I haven't got the time or the energy to be abused by nasty crazies. I really don't need my inbox brimming with hateful abuse, which bears no relation to anything I've ever said or done in my life. I'm quite glad to be able to ignore that kind of unjustified abuse, because I'm not looking for a girlfriend, or indeed trying to make any kind of connection with anybody: I'm just trying to survive the winter.

The hours pass painfully slowly. It would seem like any sensible person would do something, if they were suffering as badly as I claim to be, but it's not true: in my circumstances, you'd do the same thing... eyes on the prize. You too, would suffer in the short-term, even if it seemed unbearable, because you would also know that there's only one route ahead; only once choice, although it appears to completely ignorant idiots as if there are more choices. There are not. There are no other choices.

I look around at the options, and all I see is futility. I don't want to pretend that I believe in a sky monster. I don't want to pretend that I like Salsa dancing. I don't want to pretend that I'm interested in trains. I don't want to pretend that I'm interested in birds. I don't even want to pretend that I'm interesting in boring and unintelligent, unambitious provincial hicks, who've never travelled and experienced other cultures, with no aptitude for free thought and certainly no capacity to entertain the notion that life should be lived in a way which is dissimilar to that of slugs, wasps and other simple beasts, like the pram-faced breeders spewing out an endless stream of pink screaming flesh into a life of misery and disappointment.

Eyes on the prize: I'll never have enough money to live out my natural life at an acceptable standard of living, but mercifully I can choose the precise day of my death, to co-incide with both what is bearable, and what is affordable.

 

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Grind

4 min read

This is a story about wishing my life away...

Jeep

As a child I wanted to be a grown-up so that I could drive a car and buy whatever the heck I wanted; eat whatever I want; do whatever I want. Life has, in fact, kinda worked out for me in that regard. Life has, essentially, turned out to be everything I expected it to be. It really is child's play in fact, provided you stay true to your childish ambitions: I do, in fact, enjoy driving, expensive toys, eating whatever I want, and doing whatever I want.

I don't think I was ever so naïve as to think that things didn't have to be paid for. In fact, if there's one thing which has been front and centre of my mind, since the moment that consciousness sprang into my infant mind, it's that everything has to be paid for. You have to pay to play: I've always understood this.

As with childhood, I know that there's no other route to get where I want other than waiting. I had to wait until 17 years of age to get a full driving license, to enjoy the freedom of the road on my own. I had to wait for everything else I wanted too. I'm waiting now. My whole life is mostly waiting. Waiting for the stuff I want.

Older people, and particularly parents, are somewhat idiotic in telling children and younger people to not wish their lives away. It's moronic to tell somebody who has no freedom and cannot get what they want, that they should cherish a time of misery, suffering, deprivation and unmet want. What is there to cherish about being homeless? What is there to cherish about being hungry? What is there to cherish about having the world flaunt everything in your face, while you can only look on jealously? What is there to cherish about the impotence of having your life controlled by others? What is there to cherish in the waiting?

I've often written about this, but if I could take a pill and wake up ten years from now with no memory of the intervening decade, but all of my earnings in the bank, of course I'd take it. There's nothing I want from the present. I only want the opportunities which money can buy, which are locked up in the future, with nothing but grinding standing in the way.

Grinding is a well-understood thing, amongst younger people. In the absence of any realistic prospect of being able to afford to buy a house and start a family, it seems obvious that virtual worlds would flourish. Starting with games like The Sims, and then the infamous World of Warcraft, there has been an enormous explosion in popularity of games which aren't won per se, but instead offer a virtual reality where achievement and progress are possible, in a way which is not possible in the real world. No amount of supermarket shelf stacking will enable a young person to escape from their socioeconomic predicament - their preordained doom - and as such, it's little wonder that their tiny amount of disposable income would be frittered away on virtual objects; purchasing power so inadequate as to acquire any of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, such as shelter.

The gamification of life is all-pervasive. School is not about learning, but about grades to get into university. University is not about learning, it's the only route into a career without a ludicrously low glass ceiling. Jobs are not about passion or vocation, but each one a means to an end: a stepping stone on a career path towards... towards what? Towards a pension, and death hopefully. At least, hopefully, a long, painful, uncomfortable, illness-ridden, but not impoverished retirement, hopefully. At some point along the way, a partner will be acquired - whose looks and intelligence will be scored - and later there will be children who will also score points for their academic achievements. Everybody is keeping score.

The grind seems necessary, somehow. A means to an end, perhaps. Except, the summit is never reached. The goals are never achieved. There's no winning this game.

 

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No Retreat

4 min read

This is a story about one-way streets...

Balcony

An important reason why people commit suicide, which demands further discussion, is the way that life is set up so that retreat is almost impossible. Nobody ever asks for a demotion. Nobody ever asks for a pay cut. Nobody ever wants to pull their kids out of private school to put them into state school. Nobody ever wants to cut off their kids' allowance, or stop paying into a savings account for their university education. Nobody ever wants to lose their trophy partner, because they can't afford to keep them in the manner to which they have been accustomed. Nobody wants to downsize or move in with family. It's all a one-way street.

Taken in aggregate, a small bump in the road can easily be understood as something which would prompt somebody to commit suicide. While you might say to somebody who's lost their job "just get another job" it's actually much more complicated than that: most people are only one or two missed paycheques away from major financial difficulties. The whole house of cards can collapse very easily: everybody is leveraged to the max.

Of course, you might say that it's silly to get worked up about material things. "Of course" everyone would understand about having to sell the fancy car, not go on holiday, leave the fancy school, not buy the nice things, maybe not have the same opportunities. "Of course" so the saying goes "we've still got each other" except it doesn't work like that. When the money dries up, everyone fucks off, and then the vultures move in to pick any remaining flesh off the carcass.

Yes, we really do have to acknowledge that we all become highly leveraged such that relatively small problems are life-destroying, and as such, they are life-ending.

We humans are optimists by nature. We always assume that the stock market is going to keep going up, the housing market is going to keep going up, our salary is going to keep going up: everything must always go up, according to our human proclivity for optimism. It's not that people are stupid, although of course they are that too, but there's a fundamental hard-wired kind of specific stupidity I'm talking about: the tendency towards optimism, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

If we were beasts of pure reason and logic, we'd kill ourselves as soon as we grasped our situation: a life of pain, depression, anxiety, suffering, hard work and other unpleasantness, met with an inevitable death at the end. Why put yourself through that? Our self-preservation instincts have evolved to counteract our higher brain functions, lest our species die out, but still... why bother? It's completely illogical to live your life hoping for anything: death is inevitable; illness, pain and suffering is almost inevitable. Almost nobody dies "peacefully" in their sleep: decades of slow, painful and uncomfortable dying await us all.

Obviously, we hope to achieve symbolic immortality through our genes, passed on to our children. Or rather, our genes hope to be replicated. We are, after all, just a vessel for genes to reproduce themselves, and it would be foolish - an anthropocentric arrogant delusion of grandeur - to try to convince ourselves otherwise.

In the eternally optimistic quest for a "better life" we strive to get a bigger salary, bigger house, more attractive partner, as many kids as we can realistically feed and clothe... then we move onto status symbols, like university degrees, professional qualifications/certification, fancy cars, luxury holidays... still we are not satiated.

At some point, pretty early on in our life, we become locked into a certain destiny. Pretty much, once you've got kids, you are locked-into a certain kind of life: although you might fantasise about selling your house and living in a camper van, you never will, because you are locked in, in so many ways. Even if you're wealthy and single, you're never going to sell everything you own and become a homeless nomad. You might have gone off on a gap year, you predictable tedious middle-class wanker, but you know that any more gaps on your CV wouldn't look good on your otherwise unblemished career track-record.

Those who are unlucky enough to suffer a misfortune most often go one of two ways: they're kicked out of mainstream life, and must accept their plight trapped in the underclass forevermore, or they commit suicide. There's no other line of retreat; there's no way back, for those who err or suffer a misfortune.

This might seem like a bleak outlook, but you know it's true.

 

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Emotional Labour

5 min read

This is a story about being drained...

Building site

I suppose I made a mistake. I wrote that people who were reading my stuff about suicide should write to me. Many did, and I managed to respond to pretty much everybody - sorry if you're still waiting for a reply, but I will get to you - but it was a foolish thing to say. If had set anybody up to expect a reply, which I did try to avoid, but it might still have happened, then perhaps I could have been the difference between life and death. Obviously, anybody who wants to speak to a crisis counsellor just phones one of the very many well-funded crisis counselling phone lines, which are very well known and very well advertised. Obviously, anybody needing crisis counselling would just do that, however it was still infinitesimally a microscopically small subatomically remote improability, but still a non-zero probability that me being busy when somebody in crisis contacted me, could have been the difference between life and death.

This is what I'm thinking, now, with hindsight.

Anyway, whatever, the well-funded crisis counselling websites have moved in and flooded the zone, further shutting out anybody who wanted to actually have an honest conversation about suicide, and not be bombarded with the usual "don't do it! you've got so much to live for!" trite clichéd nonsense which I am legally required to say that You Should Totally Seek Help From The Professionals™.

It was foolish of me to think that I was serving my readers as well, when the numbers reached many thousands per day, versus back when it was a fraction of those numbers. It was arrogant to think I could stay on top of everything. Worse than arrogant, deluded, naïve or whatever, those well-funded crisis counselling organisations will say, predictably, that it's dangerous. "What about the starving Africans?" they will ask. Oh, well, not that... but predictable words along those kind of lines anyway.

Meanwhile, suicide rates continue to climb. People are as desperately depressed and anxious as ever, and the global economic situation worsens every day; debts spiral out of control, companies are laying vast numbers of people off, and there's no jobs. Anybody doing anything about that? No. It's business as usual.

I thought it would be useful to be honest with people, and so many people have written to me to tell me that they're glad that I've written what I have - that they were able to find some content which wasn't the usual "don't do it! you've got so much to live for!" - that I know that it's been a useful exercise, writing about suicide without the usual "don't do it!" bullcrap.

It turns out that it's quite hard work, corresponding around the clock, on top of a full-time job. I'm not complaining at all, but I set up this website expressly because it was so exhausting, corresponding with individuals. Like any good engineer, it seemed obvious that it was far more efficient to write things once in a place where any interested party would be able to read, instead of responding to countless individuals, who are all asking more-or-less the same stuff. It's far better that I should broadcast this stuff in a way where people can come and read it whenever they want - a one-stop repository with everything written down - than to suffer the exhaustion of individual correspondence.

I kinda forgot why I set this website up. I kinda got drawn back into talking to people individually, instead of ploughing that energy into a broadcast medium, which saves vast amounts of time and energy.

I did take a break from writing, because I feared that writing would cause me to endlessly ruminate on a static and unchanging situation, making it worse. That break from writing wasn't intended to be replaced with other writing - private writing - but it was. The need to write never went away.

I'm writing again, in case you hadn't noticed.

I'm writing, and that means that my writing energy goes into the pages of this website. I don't have much time or energy for other writing.

If you write to me, I will do my very best to read and respond. I do try to respond to everybody. It's very kind of you to write. Thank you for writing.

It was foolish of me to style myself as some kind of alternative to crisis counselling, although I don't think I ever did: I made it pretty damn clear that my inbox was open, only in as much one guy can handle on his own, and only in terms of being a non-judgemental silent ear; somebody who'd listen and not interrupt or tell you how to live your life. I can't quite remember how I positioned myself, but of course you can email me if you want or need to, and I'll do my best to get back to you, but no promises. Of course, it goes without saying that if you're in crisis You Should Totally Seek Help From The Professionals™.

 

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