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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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Je Suis Fatty Gay

2 min read

This is a story about fatigue...

Unmade bed

I had planned on going out kitesurfing more than once, while I was on holiday in Mauritius. I had planned on spending some time in the sunshine today. I had planned on seeing my sister play roller derby.

In the end, I was too tired.

It's been a while since I was unable to get out of bed, but I think it's economic necessity and the opportunity to make hay while the sun shines, which means that I am just about able to force myself into an uncomfortable daily routine - working in an office 9 to 5 Monday to Friday - but the rest of the time I'm tired and I want to relax; to sleep.

My life is a bit boring, given that it consists of work, eating and sleeping, but it makes me more miserable, feeling duty-bound to do activities. I definitely need the rest, because my working days are demanding, and life's been very stressful in recent years, which has left me exhausted.

I'm writing this because I feel guilty about squandering some valuable quality time, but I feel so much better for having given myself permission to rest, instead of succumbing to a sense of duty.


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I Don't Think You Realise How Tired I Am

4 min read

This is a story about working...

Power nap

I work hard for long periods of time - very hard - and then I need a holiday. I don't mean sightseeing. I don't mean wandering round crowded cities. I don't mean rushing from place to place, catching planes, trains and automobiles. I don't mean having a packed itinerary of non-stop horse-riding, hiking, learning how to make stuff, guided excursions to sites of historical and cultural interest. What I mean is a holiday.

I work very hard and I get very tired.

It's very tiring working very hard.

If you do not work very hard, then you are not very tired, and you have plenty of energy to go off doing city breaks and travelling around, never staying more than one or two nights in any one place, taking local busses, doing lots of short internal flights. If you do not work very hard then you will have lots of energy to have a very complex itinerary and go off spending lots of money doing lots of things.

I work hard.

I get tired.

I need a holiday.

I cann't stress this enough: I AM VERY TIRED AND I NEED A HOLIDAY.

This is what a holiday is: go somewhere with nice weather, stay there, relax.

There. That's a holiday. A holiday is something you do so that when you go back to work you're less tired than when you started. I need a holiday. Is that clear?

Over the Christmas and New Year festive season, I did manage to lie on a beach lounger getting a nice tan and having drinks and snacks brought to me by a waiter. I did manage to relax. The weather was vastly better than it was in the UK and I was able to stay in the one place - no planes, trains, automobiles, busses, coaches, trams, timetables, itineraries, hassle, faff, stress, exhaustion - and I was able to go to the beach every day and enjoy the sun, sea and the sand.

It's been more than 6 months.

I'm exhausted.

I need a holiday.

I'm tired so I need a holiday. I do not need a complex multi-stop itinerary cultural activity tour with a thousand and one things to travel between, as some kind of non-stop torture for somebody who just needs to relax. That's not a holiday.

If I had tens of thousands of pounds and months and months without any rent or bills to pay, I could quite happily squander those tens of thousands of pounds ambling around doing activities, but I don't have that luxury. I work. I work very hard.

I don't get to sleep. I don't get to rest. I just work. I work really really hard. I cannot stress enough how tired I am.

I am tired.

Do you get this?

The solution to my tiredness is a holiday.

This is how I organise my life: I work hard and then I take a holiday.

That's how my life works: I use up my energy working very hard, and then I take a holiday to replenish my energy.

My energy is depleted - dangerously so - and I desperately need a holiday.

It's really quite simple when you understand these simple facts: I work; I work very hard; I work for very long periods without a holiday; I work on the basis that I will take a holiday when I need one, to recharge my batteries. My life does not and cannot function without the holidays which punctuate the periods of intense hard work. You cannot imagine how hard I work. You cannot imagine how tired I am.

I do not think you realise how tired I am.

 

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The Journey

11 min read

This is a story about three years of my life...

Hotel room

I was living in an ultra-modern hotel in Canary Wharf and working for HSBC at their head office. I was a member of the team working on the bank's number one IT project. Shortly beforehand I had been living in a 14-bed hostel dorm and I'd narrowly escaped bankruptcy and destitution. I was working 12 hours a day, 6 or sometimes 7 days a week. I was exhausted and the tiredness, stress and unsettled life was driving me literally insane. I was suffering with delusions of grandeur, paranoia and my behaviour was erratic and unpredictable; I was extremely tense and irritable. I was on the brink of having a breakdown.

River panorama

I rented an apartment on the River Thames near the office. The rent was obscene - £500/week - but I was earning great money working for HSBC and I was working very hard, so it seemed affordable at the time; it seemed like a nice reward for all the hard work. It felt like justice that I'd been able to get myself off the streets and into such a lovely place to live; to have gone from homeless and sleeping rough in a park, to having a luxury Thameside apartment with panoramic views over London.

My glasses

I was dating a BBC journalist. I was rapidly gaining a Twitter following. I felt like everything was happening for a reason. I felt like it was my destiny to do something important. I was consumed with mania; I was obsessed with the idea of a grand gesture. I had been deeply affected by my homelessness and near-bankruptcy and destabilised by the exhaustion of sleeping rough and in hostel dorms. The IT project was very stressful and I was under a great deal of pressure from HSBC management. My mind was a mess. I was very severely mentally ill.

Psych ward terrace

I woke up one morning and I couldn't go on. I couldn't face the office. I wanted to kill myself. I went to my doctor who sent me to hospital. 13 hours later I was admitted to a secure psych ward. I explained that I was financially distressed and very stressed at work. The psychiatric team recommended I stay in hospital for at least 2 weeks, but I needed to be back in the office if I was going to keep my job, to be able to afford the rent.

Golden Gate Bridge

I discharged myself from hospital after a week and flew to San Francisco. I figured that if I was going to kill myself I might as well do it somewhere iconic. A friend picked me up from the airport and I borrowed a bike. I cycled straight to the Golden Gate Bridge. Seeing old friends, however, made me change my mind about committing suicide.

Sleep out

I lost my job with HSBC and I "slept rough" in the shadow of the head office skyscraper in Canary Wharf. I thought that this would be the pinnacle of my journey. I thought that having been used and abused by HSBC then unceremoniously dumped out onto the streets to suffer bankruptcy and homelessness - having managed to get myself a job at the bank while of no fixed abode and living in a hostel - would be deliciously poetic. It was, but my journey had barely begun.

Self harm

I quit drinking for 121 consecutive days. I starved myself. I thought that I would go on hunger strike. I thought that I would sleep rough on Christmas Day. I was really angry and upset with the world. Self harm and substance abuse dominated my life for several months. I got into heaps of debt just staying alive.

Cruise ship

I survived the winter. I got another job. My life was OK except for persistent suicidal thoughts. I hated the project I was working on but I persevered because I was in a lot of debt. I loved where I was living - every day in my apartment was like Christmas Day because the view was so awesome. Living by the river was an incredible privilege. I took a holiday and went kitesurfing. My quality of life was improving slowly.

Cooking with bath salts

I met somebody very special and fell totally in love. She accepted me for who I was, including the all the bad bits, such as my prior issues with substance abuse. She was the first person I'd been in a relationship with who'd been able to read everything about me on my blog and to understand my flaws. We had a good relationship. The project I had been working on came to an end and I was jobless again. I wrote and published my first novel - she proofread it and helped me with the ending and other ideas. She was very supportive and I was confident I'd find work again easily.

New Year's Eve

New Year's Eve watching the fireworks over London, sipping champagne on my balcony with the woman I loved - it seemed like the New Year was full of promise, but I was worried about getting another job and I was still in a lot of debt. There was a lot of pressure.

DVT

Disaster struck. I got deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in my left leg, which swelled up to twice the size of my right leg. My kidneys failed and I ended up in hospital on a high dependency ward having many hours of dialysis every day. The potassium in my blood spiked to a life-threatening level and I was constantly at risk of cardiac arrest. I was very sick.

Drug shrine

My stay in hospital caused me to lose my job. Losing my job caused me to collapse psychologically and become very depressed and despondent. The DVT had caused terrible nerve damage and I had a lot of neuropathic pain, as well as a numb left foot. I started to become dependent on painkillers. I sought powerful antidepressants for my low mood. Pictured on the table are: codeine, dihydrocodeine, tramadol, diazepam, alprazolam, mirtazapine, venlafaxine, dextroamphetamine, zolpidem, zopiclone and pregabalin, which are all highly addictive. Because of this cocktail of prescription drugs I suffered an episode of medication-induced mania - temporary insanity - and broke up with the love of my life.

Manchester flats

I ran out of money. I had to pay a huge tax bill and I had to go even deeper into debt. I was virtually bankrupt. Out of desperation I was forced to put all my worldly possessions into storage and leave London to take a job in Manchester. The job in Manchester included an apartment as part of the package, which was lucky because I didn't have enough money to pay rent or a deposit - I was totally broke. Moving house and leaving London was incredibly upsetting and traumatic. The new job was extremely demanding and exhausting. I was very lonely and isolated in an unfamiliar city with no friends or family; no local connections.

Psych ward fence

I tried to commit suicide. I took a massive overdose: I'd been stockpiling my prescription painkillers and I knew that 8+ grams of tramadol was likely to be fatal. I sent a tweet when I believed I was beyond the point of no return. I thought nobody knew where I lived. I thought there was no chance anybody would get to me in time. I was wrong. I regained consciousness a few days later in a hospital's critical care ward on life support. I was later sectioned for 28 days and admitted to a Psychiatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU).

Hay bales

A doctor from Wales discovered my blog and invited me to live on their farm in a converted garage. I had no money, no car, no job. I had nothing.

Rat race

I almost went bankrupt but a friend got me some work in Warsaw and in London. I was living in AirBnBs and working in the Square Mile from Monday to Friday and living in Wales at the weekends.

Keys

I bought a car, I got a local job, a local girlfriend and I rented an apartment. Briefly, I had everything I wanted and needed, although I went even deeper into debt. The pressure, stress and turmoil which I'd endured to get to this point was unimaginable; just to get to a position which most people would take for granted as the minimum acceptable things for a normal ordinary liveable life.

Papered windows

The local project ended and I was jobless again. The relationship ended. I papered over my bedroom windows and withdrew from the world. The journey had destroyed me. I was spent.

Cashflow

An obscene amount of money flows through my hands, but it all ends up in the pockets of those who I owe money to. I'm desperately trying to keep my head above water. The financial pressure is immense; unbearable. The journey has been incredibly long and arduous. There's still a very long way to go before I reach security and stability; before I'm comfortable, happy and content.

Empty wine bottles

In the last year alone, I've managed to move house 3 times, work 4 different jobs, travel to 4 different countries, date 2 girls, survive a suicide attempt, be admitted to 3 different hospitals, quit addictive painkillers, sedatives, tranquillisers and sleeping pills, be arrested and locked in a cell, buy a car, rent a place to live, stay in 17 different hotels and AirBnBs, and somehow stay on top of my mountainous debts, not go bankrupt and even pay some of that crippling amount of money back. My only remaining vice is wine. I'm completely unmedicated and I don't abuse any substance other than alcohol. It's a remarkable journey for just 12 months, but the journey has been much, much longer than that.

In the last three years, I've written and published a million words and connected with thousands of people all over the globe.

To be precise, to date I've written exactly 1,001,020 words and counting, on this blog.

It's the world's longest suicide note.

If you want to understand why I'm suicidal you just have to read it all - it's all written down in exquisite detail. To save you the trouble of reading all 1 million words I've summarised the last 3 years for you right here.

The pressure; the stress; the exhaustion. Where is my reward?

I've travelled so far and I've achieved so much but yet I feel like it's gotten me nowhere. I should be rich but in fact I'm up to my eyeballs in debt. If you want to know where that debt came from, I just explained it to you. I didn't get into debt buying frivolous things and being profligate. I didn't make particularly bad choices. I'm not stupid. Where's the payoff for working so hard? Why did I bother?

My name's Nick Grant and I drink too much but otherwise I'm an ordinary regular guy. I do my job to a high standard and I'm liked and respected by my colleagues. I pay my taxes. I pay my rent and bills. I contribute to society as a productive member. I do ordinary stuff and have ordinary needs.

I'm 39 years old and I have nothing but debt. I have nothing much to show for my 39 years on the planet.

I'm lonely. I live a double life. The person I am in the office is different from the person I am in the comfort of my own home. Nobody at work would ever suspect that I've slept rough, been in trouble with the police, been hospitalised many times, been sectioned and had horrific problems with addiction. Nobody would suspect that my mental health has caused me horrendous difficulties when exacerbated by stressful life events, like divorce, moving house, losing jobs and everything else that's happened to me in the past 5 or so years.

My solution to the instability in my life was to create a backbone that has run consistently through my ups and downs: my daily writing. To have been able to write a million words has been immensely stabilising and has brought me into contact with so many wonderful kind and caring people. I quite literally owe my life to those who've followed me and my blog, especially via Twitter. Without this connection to the world I would be dead.

Today, I've crossed a seemingly arbitrary imaginary finishing line, in having written and published a million words in less than 3 years. It might seem ludicrous and pointless, but if you consider it in the context of the journey I've been on, you can see why I've wanted to document it.

If you've followed me on some part of this journey, I'm really grateful to have had your support. Thank you.

 

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Forced to be Free

10 min read

This is a story about normality...

Psych ward garden

Most people want a secure job, secure housing and to feel prosperous. Most people don't care about freedom of speech and a free press. Given the choice between security and freedom, most people would choose security every time. It's only a handful of paternalistic elites who dictate that we the people care a very great deal about freedom, when in actual fact this is not true at all.

Freedom has a very narrow definition. When we talk about freedom of speech and a free press, we do not also acknowledge the freedom to be hungry, the freedom to be homeless, the freedom to be marginalised, excluded and abandoned by our "fit in or f**k off" culture. While we might enjoy freedom of speech and a free press, those luxuries are only useful to a privileged few; the wealthy elites; the rich and powerful. While you are theoretically free to run for political office or broadcast your opinions, you are not at all free in practice.

The only freedoms that ordinary people have are the choice between virtually identical minimum wage zero-hours contract McJobs; the choice between conformity or social exclusion. You can be a free tramp, if you choose: you can be homeless, penniless, destitute and free, or you can be enslaved to the capitalists... it's up to you; you're free to choose.

Further, for those who are not neurotypical you have to choose between social exclusion, stigma and poverty or the chemical straightjacket of powerful psychotropic medications. You're free to accept the diagnoses and swallow the pills, and allow yourself to be 'normalised' so that you fit the rigid static definition of how a 'normal' person should think and act, or you can choose to be excluded from most economic and social activity because you don't fit in.

Many of us willingly and indeed eagerly beat a path to the door of our doctors, demanding medications that will return us to 'normality' when we find that we are deviating from what we perceive to be the norm. We see millions of others around us getting up at dawn, commuting to bullshit office jobs and being uncomplaining, so when we're troubled by depression, anxiety and other disruptive changes which force us to confront the purposelessness of our absurd existence, we 'choose' to be made normal again by psychiatry.

Society should be constantly adapting to the changing needs of the people, such that the stress and exhaustion in our lives is reduced or at least kept constant, but instead we see that the people themselves believe that they are the ones at fault. Students take amphetamines, modafinil and methylphenidate in order to artificially increase their concentration spans and stay awake during marathon exam-cramming sessions. Workers drink tea, coffee and energy drinks in a desperate attempt to stimulate their brains and fend off tiredness. We take antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications so that we can withstand the horrors of a society which places greater and greater demands upon us, while also giving us less and less security: our jobs are under threat, our homes are under threat, we and our children are under threat. Where has the feeling of prosperity and the sense of optimism gone? We presume that it must be us who have faulty brains, as opposed to seeing that it's society itself which is failing to deliver the things we need.

As is oft-quoted: "it is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society"

When more than 50% of the population are categorised as suffering from some sort of mental disorder, we must surely accept that it's the minority group who are the sick ones. Why should society continue only to serve the ones who are not suffering? Why should our idea of what is 'normal' be based on something which is abnormal because it is less common? Why are we trying to conform to such unrealistic and impossible ideals, which do not serve the majority of people?

"I'm miserable, so you have to be miserable too"

I think the above quote accurately sums up the attitude of powerfully influential figures in our society, who are blocking any progress towards a better way of life for all our citizens. I had the misfortune of making the acquaintance of a doctor who hated their job, their commute, the daily grind and - seemingly - their patients. This doctor made it their mission in life to deny time off work to anybody they could. Their reasoning was simple: because they were miserable and hated their job, they were going to make everybody within their power suffer too. A doctor has the power to dispense medications which might temporarily mask the symptoms of a sick and broken society, or to sign a piece of paper which excuses a person from the charade of having to go to their bullshit McJob every day. A doctor has the power to inflict misery on potentially thousands of people every year, and we must presume that as many doctors are as miserable as the general population as a whole, which means that more than 50% of doctors are perpetrating this kind of awfulness on the people they have power over.

We worship medicine and medics as a force for good, but in the increasing absence of organised religion in wealthy western democratic countries, we are seeing doctors elevated to a social status beyond what is reasonable, creating demi-gods who abuse their power. Just as with organised religion, we have suspended rational thought, cynicism, curious inquiry and skepticism, and have placed blind faith in the medical establishment to cure the ills of society. We reject politics and politicians as corrupt self-serving liars and we have lost faith in the ability of our vote and other democratic instruments to be able to influence our lives for the better.

The only thing we believe we're able to change is ourselves, with the assistance of doctors who can give us "magic bullet" pills to alter our mood and perceptions, as well as keeping us youthful and protecting us from death. We have fake tits, white teeth, hair implants, botox and numerous other procedures to alter our appearance, because we're powerless over anything except our looks. We can be reasonably sure that our lives are protected by hospitals and medicines, but our power to influence anything else in life, such as our socioeconomic prospects, is precisely zero.

While a sharp-elbowed tranche of middle-class society obsesses about their children's exam grades, places at the most desirable schools and universities, internships, graduate training programmes and otherwise attempting to give their precious little darlings a head start in life, this blinkered myopia ignores the fact that the baby boomers are getting older and older but living longer and longer, while also amassing asset portfolios well beyond their means, and preventing those precious little darlings from having any hope of having secure jobs and secure housing. In order to pay grotesquely unjustified and disgustingly greedy defined-benefit pensions to the generation who've contributed the least - except to national debts, global warming and a decline in living standards - the pension funds demand that workers are paid pitiful wages for longer hours in terrible working conditions, so that profits, capital gains and dividends can keep sustaining the unsustainable, unrealistic and ridiculously greedy selfish demands of those who are taking out far more than they paid in.

A small segment of society is free to write, paint, photograph, travel and generally enjoy the freedoms that we would all love to have, but the very vast majority of us are too busy trying to survive in an ecomony which is built to benefit the few, not the many. Only the old and wealthy are free, and they did not work hard to earn their freedom: they have stolen that freedom from the young and from the future generations who will inherit all the problems of today and tomorrow.

If you're an artist and/or an academic and you enjoy your life and your job, you need to remember that the position of privilege you're in is very rare and a very high price is paid by a huge number of people, so that you can swan around having a lovely time. Your freedom ends where mine begins, so if your freedom is disproportionately large compared to the rest of society's then you're being greedy and antisocial; you're an enemy of society. While it's very trendy to talk about freedom being important, we must be mindful that most people want security, not freedom. Think about the price that's paid by the whole of society for your luxury privileges.

To be truly free and happy, we might have to re-evaluate our priorities. We can't demand cheap food and cheap goods if we want to be free, for example, because those things are only made possible by the exploitation of workers. We can't demand passive labour-free unearned income, for example, because that's only made possible by tyranny, economic slavery and exploitation of the vulnerable. Most importantly, we can't expect to feel contentment and security, when we need unhappy, insecure people in order to sell consumer products and to keep our entire workforce on the treadmill, by heavily indebting them and denying them social housing or the ability to buy/build their own home.

You might teach your children that a strong work ethic and academic excellence are the route to getting ahead in life, but it's not true. Being a compliant hard worker means you will be exploited, and obtaining academic qualifications incurs a substantial amount of debt. Servicing debts and paying rent is a form of tyranny which has encroached on personal freedom to the point where only a tiny fraction of society enjoys any kind of meaningful freedom at all. Your children will not be able to escape the trap; there's no hope. The depression and lack of optimism for the future is driven by a rational, reasonable and sound assessment of our younger generations' prospects.

Our heavily indebted and heavily medicated society is also controlled by draconian laws which were ostensibly introduced to counteract terrorism and industrial unrest, but have been abused to undermine the strength of trade unions and prevent the establishment of any counter-cultural movements which might challenge the status quo. While we should be living in an age of alternative lifestyles and people dropping out of a society which clearly no longer serves the majority of people's needs, we are instead witnessing a miserable dystopia, where we're all trapped on the treadmill because the only alternative is hunger, homelessness, persecution and social exclusion.

Yes, I'm free to write whatever I want, provided I do not defame the powerful figures who are responsible for maintaining this miserable state of existence for so many millions, but those in power are quite comfortable in the knowledge that my ranting is safely confined to an echo-chamber filled with so much noise that, as Aldous Huxley predicted, the truth is drowned in a sea of irrelevance - information overload.

We are somewhat hoisted by our own petard. Almost none of us of us demanded freedom, but we have collectively made freedom of speech into something useless; toothless. We are not free at all and we have no mechanism by which to affect any meaningful change. What is supposedly our most powerful tool to speak truth to power - the freedom to express ourselves - has in fact become the reason why our voices are not heard and our suffering goes ignored.

All that's left is the freedom to be hungry, homeless, persecuted and excluded.

 

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Word Count

10 min read

This is a story about carelessness...

Grazed knuckles

I'm a regular at my local corner shop. During the month when I wasn't working, I think I visited the shop every single day to buy a bottle of red wine. The weekend before last I was buying some unhealthy snacks and my usual bottle of red, when I decided at the last minute to grab a bottle of white from the fridge, which was near the counter. My usual bottle of red was balanced precariously on top of the snacks I was buying, which then plummeted towards the shop floor where mercifully it bounced off the linoleum; the glass didn't break. Last Friday I grabbed both a bottle of white and a bottle of red. As I walked up the steep hill back to my apartment, I wasn't paying attention to my footing and I tripped over. I grazed my knuckles as I attempted to save my precious cargo of wine from being smashed on the tarmac.

I've definitely become a functional alcoholic.

I woke up on Saturday morning and I had a slight tremor. I don't get hangovers because I think my alcohol tolerance is so high. I can drink two bottles of wine and I feel fine. Obviously I'm not fine.

I've started to skip meals because I'm getting enough calories from all the wine. I could drink 5 bottles of wine over the course of a weekend, and the only 'food' that I would eat would be some salty snacks - crisps and suchlike.

I examine my eyes for any sign of yellowing. I prod and probe my abdomen for tenderness, firmness or any subcutaneous fluid. Surely my liver is taking a battering from a month and a half of extreme alcohol abuse?

Over the weekends I show no restraint at all. I'm making no attempt whatsoever to be the slightest bit healthy. The crap I'm putting into my body - unhealthy snacks and copious quantities of alcohol - combined with my sedentary lifestyle must be lethal. I'm either sat down or lying down. According to my step counter I've dropped from a peak of 15,000 steps per day to a paltry 2,000.

I need to figure out which broken part of the vicious cycle to fix. Stress leads to feelings of tiredness; depression leads to demotivation; anxiety paralyses me - I could start with fixing my mental health. Self-medicating with vast quantities of alcohol seems like the solution to anxiety, stress, boredom, loneliness and isolation, but it's pretty clear that alcohol is affecting my physical health and probably my mental health too. Exercise seems like a ridiculous suggestion, given how badly I'm coping with the basic demands of everyday life. I can't figure out if I'm too tired and stressed to exercise, or if exercise will bring a net benefit once I get fitter - which I know it will - but it seems unthinkable to get fitter when I'm so dependent on alcohol as a crutch.

I'm changing far too many things at once. I've only just started my 3rd week in a new job and I'm still finding my feet in the new organisation and ingratiating myself with my new colleagues. My memory is shot to pieces. I can't even remember how long I was taking sleeping pills for before I ran out. I had some leftover painkillers, which helped to reduce my anxiety enough to be able to sleep, but then I switched back to sleeping pills last week. All I know is that the second half of May was a big mess, June was a near-disaster and I only started getting myself sorted out a week before starting the new job in the middle of July.

The surprising thing is that I keep moving forward. I didn't lose my job despite a few really shaky weeks when I was really sick. I've managed to start this job and things are going OK. Well, when I say that "things are going OK" of course I don't include my mental health, mood stability, brain chemistry or any of those other things which I pretend are OK during office hours. It's a miracle that I've been able to cover up a major relapse, alcohol abuse, abuse of prescription medications and of course my rather worrisome mental health problems.

How long did my writing go erratic for? I know that I had to delete a lot of blog posts in the period between my relapse and the day I finally regained enough of my rational mind to see that I was picking fights which couldn't be won and saying things which shouldn't be said. I don't usually delete blog posts, but I'd lost my mind and I was meandering up dead-ends; I was unhealthily obsessing over things and acting carelessly.

My carelessness has manifested itself at weekends recently. I get super drunk and I write with a lack of care for coherence and storytelling. I've written at weekends in the knowledge that I have fewer readers on Saturdays and Sundays, which has made me feel like I can just ramble, complain, moan and write complete and utter crap. I've considered deleting or rewriting my daily blog posts which I've published at weekends, because I've wondered what the hell am I going on about? I've written and written and when the word count goes over 1,000 words then I decide that I'd better not write any more, but I haven't considered whether what I've written is any good.

Of couse, the end is in sight. I'm so close to a million words now. In fact, if we included the word count of all the deleted blog posts, then I'm well over a million words. The current total word count that's actually published on the public internet on this website is now in excess of 950,000. I'm repeating myself, but only because it's important in the context of my alcoholism. The last few months have been a blur. In my mind, the relapse, the breakup and the period of insanity that followed was over in the blink of an eye. In reality, I've been an intoxicated mess; I've either been doped up on pills or drunk.

Sometimes I hear myself speak and my voice buzzes in my ears and the sound vibrates my head. It feels like somebody else is speaking and they're using a megaphone directed at my head, which is so loud that the sound hurts and I can feel the vibrations. It's a dreamlike state. It's akin to an out-of-body experience. I feel like this when I think I'm completely sober but I think it's actually due to the fact that there isn't much blood in my alcohol-stream. God knows what other crap is still circulating in my body. I've abused a mixture of diazepam, clonazepam, alprazolam, pregabalin and zopiclone during the last couple of months, as I attempted to wrestle back control of my life before my supercrack addiction destroys everything I've worked so hard to rebuild.

Yes, that's right. The dreaded supercrack was back. I had relapsed.

To put things in context, I've worked a full-time job for 9 months out of the last 12. I've moved house 4 times. I've been hospitalised twice. I've been sectioned. I spent the best part of a month locked up on a psych ward. The main headline that most people would pay attention to is that I've earned a lot of money and done a lot of work. To all intents and purposes I've been a thoroughly productive worker and a valued member of the teams and projects I've been part of. This does not reconcile.

In my head, I'm brushing off serious problems with mental health, addiction and alcoholism like they're nothing. In my head, I'm as invincible as I ever was. In my head, I'm immortal and the evidence very much backs up that ludicrous idea.

I really don't want to have a reality check one day, where I find out that I've done irreparable damage to my physical health. I really don't want to keep testing my mortality to breaking point.

Yes, the numbers look incredibly good. Despite the insanity of my life during the last 12 months, I still managed to work 9 months out of 12 and my gross income has probably been well in excess of 3 times the national average. Somehow, I've managed to write more-or-less every day and churn out over 300,000 words since this time last year. How the hell did I manage to earn so much and how did I manage to write so much? How do the numbers look so good when my life has been a complete shambolic mess?

The numbers don't tell the complete story.

Yes, without good numbers my story wouldn't be very interesting. The world's full of junkies who went bankrupt. The world's full of alcoholics who drank all their profits. The world's full of people who have fascinating stories but they never write them down. I'm gunning for the convergence point where one million words meets one million pounds. I'm aiming to be an outlier: the guy who beat drug addiction, alcoholism, mental health problems, homelessness and - most importantly - bankruptcy. I've got the archives; I've collected the data. Plenty of people lost their house, their car, their wife, their cash and everything else, but how did they get it back? The game; the sport, if you like, is to have kept this narrative going through a 3-year period which accurately captures the false starts, the setbacks and the struggles... and at no point did I wipe the slate clean; at no point did I run away; at no point did I switch to a different tack.

Why would I change my approach? The numbers look good.

I'm going to reach a million words on my blog because I'm in control of my destiny and I can work as hard as I want; I can write as much as I want. I can choose when my project is complete, because I know the word count I need to achieve every day to make sure I hit the target.

Whether or not I clear all my debts and reach a thoroughly impressive gross income for the 3-year period covered by my blog, I'm not so sure. There's no way that hard work will bring the finish line any closer - it's simply a waiting game. All I have to do is sit and look pretty and the money flows in. I just need to be patient. It's an agonising wait, but it's profitable.

Being drunk all the time seemed like a solution to the waiting game; to make the time pass quicker. However, I need to be clean and sober when I reach the finish line otherwise it was all a waste of time.

I'm going to see if I can resist the temptation to get drunk. I'm going to sober up for a few days, to try to clear my head and get some perspective. I've been intoxicated for far too long.

 

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What do Depressed People do All Day?

7 min read

This is a story about tiredness...

Corner blob

To the casual observer it might appear like I bunked off work today so I could write a blog post. In fact, writing takes up very little of my time now that I have developed the daily writing habit. I don't see writing as an alternative to work. I don't feel like writing takes any effort. I don't even care if nobody reads what I write, although obviously it helps me a lot to know that there are people who care about me.

It's remarkable how much I can sleep. I'm not at all short of sleep. I slept for 12 to 14 hours a day, at a minimum, throughout November. I slept for 8 hours a night through August, September, October and January. During the Christmas and New Year break, I slept for 14+ hours a night. Surely I can't be short of sleep.

Today, I dozed until nearly 3pm in the afternoon. My alarm was going off from 8am to 12:30pm, before I finally admitted defeat and decided that there was no way I was going to make it into the office today.

It's exhausting worrying about having to get up and go to work. It's exhausting worrying about the next time I'm going to have to pack my bags and travel across the country. It's exhausting being on a constant cycle of packing and unpacking, and washing and preparing everything for another week in yet another AirBnB that I've never visited before. It's exhausting preparing for yet another week in the same office, with no work colleagues to speak to or work to do - sitting there pretending to look busy so I can scrape together a bit of cash. It's exhausting that my needs are so out of alignment with the demands placed upon me. It's exhausting to be forced into a situation that's so toxic to my mental health and that destroys any sense of happiness and wellbeing.

I'm usually awake before my alarm. If I wake up early enough, I'll go to the toilet and try to get back to sleep, otherwise I'll lie there dreading the moment that my alarm will go off, which is always a lot sooner than I expect. Then, I try to rouse myself but I can't. Even though I would easily have sprung out of bed to use the toilet at 7am, I flatly refuse to get up at 8am. There seems something really wrong with getting up and then going back to bed, so I stay in bed, even if my bladder is really uncomfortably full.

After I pass the point where I would walk into the office ridiculously late, I then start to tell myself that I can walk in at lunchtime with a sandwich and sit down to eat my lunch at my desk as if I'd been there all day. This is my new strategy. It worked for 3 days, but today I couldn't even face half a day. As the clock ticked past 1pm, I realised that I would be late for lunch - by the time I sat down at my desk it would clearly no longer be lunchtime. I gave up on the idea of going into the office at all today.

What have I done all day? Surely I can't be asleep for 15 hours when I'm not tired. Well, there's a kind of emotional exhaustion that's created by this job where I've got nothing to do. I loathe going into the office and sitting all on my own with nobody to talk to. I hate it so much that I get tired just thinking about it. I'd rather lie in bed full of dread thinking about how awful things are, than be sat at my desk pretending to look busy. It's a sane response to an insane situation, to stay away from the source of such sheer misery.

You'd think I would be hungry, having skipped breakfast and lunch, but I'm not. You'd think I would be bored taking so much time off doing nothing at all, but I'm not. When the prospect of being in the office is so abominable to my mental health, I can easily lie in bed avoiding it.

"We'd all like to lie in bed doing nothing!" you might chide. Well, why don't you?

If you're thinking of all the ways that I could put my time to more productive use, then good for you, but I don't think like that. It's not like I'm visiting art galleries or going shopping when I'm bunking off work. It doesn't work like that. I can think of plenty of ways to fill my spare time, but this time is not spare, you see - this is time where I'm laid low; subdued by depression created by the intolerable conditions that I must endure.

"Why must you endure this?"

Well, it's still very lucrative to just work 2.5 out of 5 days a week. I'm still earning more money than I'd get as an artist or a poet. I'm still earning more money than I'd get volunteering to stroke puppy dogs at the local animal sanctuary. I'm clinging onto this job in the hope that my mood will lift and things will get easier, but even if things don't get any easier, I'm still managing to earn quite a lot of cash and inch my way closer to the end of the contract. No matter how unbearable it is, I don't want to give in. I want to push myself. I want to find out if I can push through this difficult period.

Sometimes I sit and I don't do anything at all. I don't read, listen to music or watch TV. I don't talk to anybody. I'm not really thinking. I'm not occupied by anything - I'm in a trancelike state, zoned out. I'm just sitting and waiting. I can wait. I'm really good at just patiently waiting. It's harder at work, because I get anxious that somebody's going to ask me what I've been doing with my time, and I can't really reply that I've just been sitting in a trance. I feel like I should be doing stuff, but there's nothing to do. The company are happy enough to pay me to keep a seat warm and do nothing, but it's pretty unbearable even if it's helping my bank balance a lot.

So, I guess I'm tired. I'm really irrationally, illogically, weirdly tired. I'm tired all the time, but I have no obvious reason to be tired. My job is not demanding in the conventional sense of the word. My life is not particularly physically demanding. I'm apparently not doing anything so I should have no reason to be tired, but I am tired. Sleeping is the main thing that I do. I live to sleep at the moment.

You'd think I'd get bored of sleeping and doing nothing, but I'd rather be sleeping and doing nothing at home, than doing nothing at my desk. It's a blessed relief to finally give myself permission to bunk off the whole day, even though I'm squandering the time in bed. It seems strange that I'm not doing anything with my time, when I'm complaining that I've got nothing to do at work, but that's the way it is - I feel shackled to my job, and it's emotionally draining, having nothing to do.

That's my life at the moment: Sleeping and dread.

 

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The Closest I've Come to Suicide

6 min read

This is a story about the straw that broke the camel's back...

Skullface

You'd think that the closest I ever came to finishing this suicide note - and ending my life - would have been the time both my kidneys failed and an old ankle injury made it almost impossible to work. I also lost one of the best IT contracts I've ever had and became hooked on legally prescribed pain medication, which pretty much scuppered my ability to get another contract. I was running out of money fast, but struck down with physical and psychological problems - depression - I could barely function.

My girlfriend at the time was exhausted after spending weeks in hospital with me, while the survival of my kidneys was in doubt. She came to all my outpatient appointments. She helped me hobble around and get my prescriptions for my pain. Then, I dumped her. She was exhausted and she'd just been to Cornwall - Land's End - to meet her new nephew. I had a crisis while she was away and in her state of tiredness, she couldn't think straight. In the state I was in, I needed her help, but to me she didn't seem to care - that was my warped perception, at least. I immediately broke up with her, because what seemed like life or death to me didn't seem to matter to her due to compassion fatigue and physical tiredness. To my messed up mind it seemed as if she didn't care about me, when I desperately needed her help.

Having no girlfriend, no job, no money, bad health and a ridiculously expensive riverside apartment to keep up the rent & bills payments on, losing a loan that had been promised to me by my girlfriend, further compounded a dreadful situation.

I sold a lot of my most precious things, even though I knew that the money would barely cover a month's rent. Being a high earner, most welfare benefits were inaccesible to me and to have a black mark on my credit score would preclude me from ever working in banking again.

I became hopeless, resigned to a fate of eviction, bailiffs, debt collection agencies and destitution. The best option was to spend 28 days in hospital, said my psychiatrist - at least I would be safer there.

My trigger finger was itchy, but I knew that if I could beg a sofa or spare bed to sleep on, I would at least avoid another period of homelessness. One of my Twitter followers offered her spare bedroom and things briefly looked up, but then she changed her mind. One old friend offered to put me up in a bed & breakfast for 2 weeks, which would have been welcome respite. An old schoolfriend said if I was desperate I could couch-surf in his 1-bedroom apartment, where he has a 4-year-old daughter. Three offers, which gave me a momentary boost, but at the same time, it's somewhat depressing that of all the people I know on Facebook and Twitter who have generously proportioned houses, nobody else even offered to let me pitch my tent in their back garden... my experience of dealing with the local council and government benefits system means that you're just plain wrong if you think all those taxes you pay mean you won't end up sleeping rough, if life doesn't treat you well.

I always had a plan - 336 tramadol tablets - that would virtually assure me a swift and painless death, but I always felt a few steps removed from actually following through with it.

I'm so exhausted and unwell at the moment, in a stressful (but rewarding) job that it took hardly anything to push me over the edge to the most suicidal I've ever been. Losing my new local girlfriend and the accompanying social group, would be too much to bear, when I haven't the energy to grieve the loss and to pick myself up again.

There was no doubt in my mind about what the plan was. I could visualise the steps. It took every ounce of effort and willpower to overcome the urge to simply empty the 336 capsules into a small glass, add some other opiates that would cause respiratory arrest, and them simply get drunk until I passed out... probably less than 60 minutes, and I'd have departed from this world.

It might seem rash; an overreaction, but the rollercoaster ride I've been on has left me without a single percent of spare capacity. Even something minorly inconvenient or unexpectedly going wrong, can cause a seemingly disproportionate reaction.

I wasn't scared. I wasn't hesitant. It would have been done, and that would have been that. Call it a strength if you like - I can take bold fearless actions, even if they would certainly cause my life to be ended.

The scary thing is just how quickly I would have acted, having started the process. Less than an hour, to be a cold white corpse with purple lips and rigor mortis setting in. "Will I feel differently in an hour?" I asked myself, hypothetically supposing that I delay my deadly potion in order to see if my mood changed.

Luckily, I acted positively and pursued a more favourable resolution to what was almost certainly going to be a breakup. She said she wasn't going to pick up the phone or reply to my messages, which would perversely have only accelerated the commencement of my death ritual.

While it looks like a sudden thing to do over a very trivial trigger, things have to be seen in the wider context. I know how depressed and lonely I was before I met this girl and her friends. I know that the effort involved in courting her almost cost me my sanity, stability and job. I know how hard things have been at times during the umpteen years I've been diagnosed with clinical depression. At some point, you're so sick of a miserable life, that you'll gladly welcome the end of the suffering.

I felt a little bad about leaving the project I was working on unfinished, but I'd done the hardest bits, so most of it that was left to do was copy & paste.

I didn't feel any sadness or guilt, for depriving friends and family of the living version of me. Less than 1% of the people I'm in contact with, offered any kind of assistance when I was in a crisis. Basically, I mean fuck all to anybody, no matter what they say.

I'm sleep deprived and my brain chemistry just isn't right at the moment, but still, I know when it's time to go - you get sick of all the bullshit of living, Being alive is over-rated. It's been mostly suffering for me (boo hoo! get the violins out).

So, that was the time I nearly killed myself, deliberately... a close shave.

 

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#NaNoWriMo2016 - Day Twenty-Seven

13 min read

Poste Restante

Contents

Chapter 1: The Caravan

Chapter 2: Invisible Illness

Chapter 3: The Forest

Chapter 4: Prosaic

Chapter 5: The Van

Chapter 6: Into the Unknown

Chapter 7: The Journey

Chapter 8: Infamy

Chapter 9: The Villages

Chapter 10: Waiting Room

Chapter 11: The Shadow People

Chapter 12: Enough Rope

Chapter 13: The Post Offices

Chapter 14: Unsuitable Friends

Chapter 15: The Chase

Chapter 16: Self Inflicted

Chapter 17: The Holiday

Chapter 18: Psychosis, Madness, Insanity and Lunacy

Chapter 19: The Hospitals

Chapter 20: Segmentation

Chapter 21: The Cell

Chapter 22: Wells of Silence

Chapter 23: The Box

Chapter 24: Jailbird

Chapter 25: The Scales

Chapter 26: Descent

Chapter 27: The Syringe

Chapter 28: Anonymity

Chapter 29: The Imposter

Chapter 30: Wish You Were Here

 

27. The Syringe

"FRL-V4" was an act of desperation. He had exhausted every prescription drug that he could buy from overseas. He then tried every research chemical that he could find. The Internet revealed a world of "psychonauts" conducting drug experimentation on themselves. He felt like a human guinea pig anyway, having had a cocktail of different medications prescribed to him by his doctors, all of which had terrible side effects. He was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired.

When he received his first delivery from Frog Eye Wares, he assumed they had accurately weighed out half a gram: 500 milligrams. He poured out the contents of a small plastic bag labelled "TOXIC: NOT FOR HUMAN CONSUMPTION" onto a dinner plate. Then he divided the pile of powder into two equal piles of 250 milligrams each. He divided one of those piles in two, which he assumed must approximately weigh 125 milligrams. Scooping up one small pile of powder, he transferred it to a second dinner plate. Then, he made five lines of powder, each of the same length and width. All of this was done by eye. By his estimation, a single line weighed 25 milligrams.

Taking a rolled up bank note, he snorted half a line up his right nostril. This was the first time he'd insufflated something since the one and only time he'd tried cocaine, at a house party 8 years earlier. The cocaine gave him a feeling of numbness in-between his eyes and down the back of his throat. He could taste a drip from his nasal cavity, but it was not unpleasant and the numbness spread around his mouth in his saliva a little. The "FRL-V4" powder made his eyes water with pain. There was an extremely bitter taste and the smell of solvents filled his nose.

His face flushed, his pulse raced, he needed a bowel movement. In the bathroom, dropping his trousers, he noticed his penis had shrunk as if it was freezing cold. Washing his hands, he looked at himself in the mirror. His pupils were gigantic and jet black; he was sweating. Panicking slightly that he had taken too much of the drug, he rinsed his nose out with some cold water and tried to spit out the residue that seemed to coat the back of his throat.

He'd spent the day feeling productive. He had cleaned the house and had then started playing a computer game until he noticed that it had got dark. Then, he started to feel a sense of panic. 9 hours had elapsed since he had taken the drug and he worried that the effects weren't wearing off. He looked at his watch; then he looked at his watch again. Time was passing incredibly slowly. He started to stare at the face of his watch; the second hand was barely moving. He could feel his heartbeat starting to race. He started to feel like he couldn't breathe; as if there wasn't enough oxygen in the air and he couldn't catch his breath.

That was when he decided to snort the other half of the line.

He'd done a lot of research on the Internet and he knew that some of the drugs he was likely to encounter were "fiendishly" addictive. Most of the negative things that he read seemed to be associated with people having long sleepless binges. It seemed logical to him that the thing to do was to avoid "re-dosing". He would limit himself to a fixed daily dose and that way he would avoid the dreadful binges and the path to addiction that he had read about. However, he hadn't been able to calm down and was feeling really awful. He half considered going to hospital, but instead, he decided to double down.

Snorting with his left nostril, the pain brought tears to his eyes again. Soon, he felt a lot better. The panic attack subsided.

He hadn't eaten all day and he thought he should try and force some food down. Making himself a sandwich, it seemed incredibly dry. He hardly had any saliva to swallow. Everything tasted really strange and unpalatable. He had absolutely no appetite. Realising he'd hardly drunk anything, he gulped down some orange juice, which was pleasant enough. His stomach hurt and he retched a little, but the nausea quickly passed.

The night passed with more computer games and he was surprised to see morning light. Trying to avoid looking at his watch for as long as possible, he knew that there was panic rising in him again. What was he going to do? He hadn't slept in 24 hours. This was quickly turning into a binge. He decided to snort another half a line, to get through the day and then sleep at his normal bedtime that night.

The passage of time was so much accelerated during the segments where he was under the influence of the drug that, whatever he was doing, he found that he was still doing it hours and hours later. He wasn't normally a big fan of computer games, but he had almost completed the one he had been playing. On the pretence of completing the game, he snorted another half a line.

Feeling a little sleepy in the small hours of the morning, he decided to doze. He slept and then suddenly awoke feeling hyper alert. He was acutely aware of the sound of his own breathing, his heart beating, every noise in and outside the house. He could hear the ticking of his watch and time had slowed almost to a crawl. His pulse raced and he was terrified that he was going to have a heart attack. He lay perfectly still on the sofa and tried to calm himself down, controlling his breathing. He fought rising panic for what felt like an agonisingly long period of time before deciding that he had to distract himself. He decided to go out for a walk.

It was a bright morning, still quiet before the commuter rush. He turned left out of his front door and walked 50 metres before deciding that there would be too many people on the main road. He headed the other way, past his house and got halfway down his road before he panicked that he was getting too far away from home if he needed to hide himself away or wait for an ambulance. He walked slowly back at first and then worried that his neighbours were probably watching his strange behaviour, so he hurried back home. Inside, he paced around downstairs, unable to settle himself.

Sitting down at the dining room table, he started to scribble a note explaining what he had done. Screwing up that piece of paper, he started to write down all the medications he had taken without a prescription: dates and dosages. Grabbing more sheets of paper, he wrote a whole set of notes, explaining every doctor's appointment, outpatient visit and inpatient admission that he could remember, along with diagnoses and medications he had been prescribed. On a final sheet of paper he explained that he had bought a research chemical called "FRL-V4" from the internet, but he didn't know what the active ingredient was. He wrote that he feared he had overdosed, damaged his heart or had some kind of allergic reaction. He wrote: "I've had an unplanned binge and I think I'm getting addicted."

Neil knew the idea that you could become addicted the first time you ever tried a drug was ridiculous. There was no such thing as something that was instantly addictive. However, he knew that he'd jettisoned his plan to only take a fixed known dosage and never to binge. He knew that he wanted to take more of the drug, but he also didn't want to take any more because it obviously caused him to have massive panic attacks.

At some point while he was writing, he had calmed down. He now felt quite good; he was flooded with a sense of relief. The feelings of dread and the near-certainty that he was going to die - or at the very least be rushed off to hospital - had dissipated and he spent the afternoon having a shower and eating a little. His appetite and tiredness returned that evening and he slept for nearly 14 uninterrupted hours. When he awoke he felt mostly normal, hungry and a little depressed. However, the drug played on his mind more than he was comfortable admitting to himself.

Having had such a scary experience with the panic attacks, he wanted to flush the remaining powder he had left. Strangely, the memories that stuck in his mind most clearly were how much relief he felt when the panic attacks were finally over, as well as the relief he felt from the panic when he snorted another half a line. Fatefully, he did not flush the powder.

He managed to delay almost a week before he took the drug again. Addiction did not become a daily habit. He seemed unable to snort half a line and then put up with the panic attacks. His binges would last two or three days, until the panic would be accompanied by enough sleep deprivation to bring sleep. As he got more and more tired, he would sleep through the worst of the comedown. In a way, he was functional, because he would eat and sleep to catch up in-between his binges. However, he knew that his life now revolved around taking drugs and addiction had taken hold.

Taking to the Internet to research the unknown chemical that had its hooks in him, he discovered a thread of discussion where people were speculating what the active ingredients in "FRL-V4" were. There seemed to be consensus that it had to contain one of the most feared and notorious 'designer' drugs. Searching online, there were no shortage of horror stories about this chemical, nicknamed "Peony". News stories reported one man had chewed off a tramp's face and a Dot Com billionaire had murdered his girlfriend, while under the influence.

Unwittingly, he was committing the names of these chemicals and where they came from - Chinese laboratories - to memory, while he struggled with addiction and also tried to find information about some less harmful substitute that would help him escape his predicament.

To obtain the pure chemical form of "Peony" would be incredibly dangerous, because it was so potent, but he could try to substitute it with similar drugs that were less addictive and caused fewer side effects. It would take a couple of weeks for deliveries from China to reach him. In the meantime, his addiction raged and he started to go on binges lasting four or five days.

When his weighing scales and the first of his Chinese orders were delivered, things did not improve. He was exhausted and sloppy with his measurements. He had become used to estimating his doses by eye. Snorting a big line of "FRL-V4" and a medium sized one did not make much difference. The difference between 5 milligrams and 10 milligrams of something that was 99% pure made a huge difference. His binges started to last for over a week, because he would be kept awake for days at a time when he snorted a single line of the potent chemicals.

Feeling his life was totally out of control and it would not be long before an overdose meant death or hospitalisation, Neil decided that he was a lost cause. The idea of running away to the caravan started to obsess him. He wanted to spare Lara and his family the distress of finding him dead from his addiction.

He had promised himself that he would never cross one line with his addiction: he would never inject drugs. It was a strange thing to have decided, but everything he'd read suggested that injecting drug users were generally in their death throes. However, he had taken a syringe with him to the caravan.

By dissolving chemicals in half a litre of water, he had an exactly one milligram of drug per millilitre of water. Sucking up the chemical solution into a syringe, he could measure a dose quite accurately without his weighing scales. He didn't even need a hypodermic needle: he could simply swallow the liquid. His stomach acid would destroy about 50% of the chemical, but half of it would reach his bloodstream.

Desperate for something to drink, Neil now reached for a glass bottle that he had dissolved drugs into. The water had reacted with the chemical and seemed to have destroyed it. He took a couple of big glugs from the bottle.

Without any means of measuring the weight of his doses accurately, Neil had been playing Russian Roulette with his life. A small dose could have no effect at all and a large dose would leave him with stimulant psychosis for days, as well as putting incredible strain on his heart. It was miraculous that he had survived so long.

In a state of drug-induced insanity, every bit of powder in the caravan had been consumed, accidentally spilled or destroyed. Neil had been clean for a few days, but he was in such a damaged state that he hadn't had the energy to limp to his van or to the country lane where he might be discovered by a passing driver.

Now, he felt a sharpness return to his mind. His injuries hurt less. His back and joints didn't seem to ache so badly. He felt his limbs start to get lighter. The water had reduced the potency of the drug, but it hadn't destroyed it altogether. Neil was able to sit up and move around. He felt like he could get to the van.

 

Next chapter...

 

#NaNoWriMo2016 - Day Four

11 min read

Poste Restante

Contents

Chapter 1: The Caravan

Chapter 2: Invisible Illness

Chapter 3: The Forest

Chapter 4: Prosaic

Chapter 5: The Van

Chapter 6: Into the Unknown

Chapter 7: The Journey

Chapter 8: Infamy

Chapter 9: The Villages

Chapter 10: Waiting Room

Chapter 11: The Shadow People

Chapter 12: Enough Rope

Chapter 13: The Post Offices

Chapter 14: Unsuitable Friends

Chapter 15: The Chase

Chapter 16: Self Inflicted

Chapter 17: The Holiday

Chapter 18: Psychosis, Madness, Insanity and Lunacy

Chapter 19: The Hospitals

Chapter 20: Segmentation

Chapter 21: The Cell

Chapter 22: Wells of Silence

Chapter 23: The Box

Chapter 24: Jailbird

Chapter 25: The Scales

Chapter 26: Descent

Chapter 27: The Syringe

Chapter 28: Anonymity

Chapter 29: The Imposter

Chapter 30: Wish You Were Here

 

4. Prosaic

Senility seemed to reveal hidden racism inside some of the sweetest old men. Every Friday evening at the hospital, the last weekday shift would hand over to the first weekend shift. Weekend shifts were mostly covered by agency staff. Many of the agency nurses were of African descent, which was a fact that failed to escape the notice of otherwise unobservant geriatric patients.

"I am a nurse. I am a fully qualified, registered nurse" one of the agency nurses stated calmly to an irate patient. This was not an uncommon situation she had to deal with.

"How can you be a nurse? You're not even English" said a man, his voice raised.

Lara could hear the conversation between nurse and patient from down the corridor. She had her coat on and was carrying her handbag. She was now making her way out of the building to the car park. Her working week was over. She had a tough decision to make: did she continue taking the most direct route to the lifts, or did she turn around and take the back staircase down to the basement, and walk round the hospital to the staff car park? She decided to press on. Her uniform was mostly covered by a long coat.

"Nurse! Nurse!" shouted the old man, as Lara scurried past an open door, keeping her eyes fixed straight ahead. Glass windows either side of the door allowed anybody walking along the corridor to be easily be seen from the ward.

Lara knew that the old man was trying to get her attention, but she also knew that nothing could be achieved by involving herself in the altercation. The old man would never accept that not all nurses looked like Florence Nightingale and Britain had become a multicultural society during his long lifetime. Tragically, it was part of the job description, that agency nurses would have to deal with this kind of mistreatment over the weekend, when the familiar weekday staff were mostly not working.

Stepping out of view into the lift lobby, Lara felt a twinge of guilt for not taking the stairs, but this was outweighed by the sense of relief that the weekend was beginning and she could start to relax. A pair of metal doors slid open and Lara squeezed into the lift. Leaving the building at this time was always busy. Every lift going down would be packed full of people.

The hospital was a modern monolithic white cube, 5 storeys high. It was the largest hospital in the county. Built on the outskirts of town, the hospital was surrounded by a sprawling car park, divided into short stay, long stay, and far away from the main building, a car park for the general staff members. Near the staff car park was a second building in the same architectural style as the hospital, but much smaller. This was the accommodation block where many of the younger nurses lived.

As Lara reached her car, a group of young women spotted her and started calling her name and waving for her to join them. One of the group sprinted over to where Lara stood, frozen, car keys in hand.

"Will you join us for a drink?" asked Lara's friend, Anne.

"I'm sorry, Anne, I've really got to be getting home. Neil's not well" Lara replied.

"Still?" Anne asked, slightly shocked.

"Yeah. Don't know what's wrong with him. I hope he's been to see the doctor today"

"Oh dear. Well, maybe you'll come out another time?" Anne asked brightly, clearly not wanting to stress Lara out any more and slowly backing away to rejoin the group.

"Sure" said Lara, relieved that Anne could see she was keen to get going.

Anne skipped back to her other friends. Lara knew most of them. They were all a little younger than Lara and they had bonded through living together in the staff accommodation block. They had been very welcoming and friendly and Lara was grateful for the opportunity to socialise outside the group of familiar couples that she and Neil spent the majority of their time with.

Jumping in her car as quickly as she could to avoid any further attempts to pressurise her to go out for a quick drink, Lara gave an apologetic wave as she drove past the group on her way out of the car park. Young and carefree, full of energy, all her workmates waved back enthusiastically. Lara's heart sank a little, because she knew how much fun and refreshing it was to spend time with them.

Pleased to find a parking space quite near her house, Lara was also pleasantly surprised to see that there were lights on downstairs. This was the first time this week that she'd returned home to any signs of life.

Opening the front door and stepping into the hallway, Lara hung her coat on the coat rack and dumped her handbag on the floor. The door to the snug was open and Neil was sat on the large sofa, studying a large piece of paper covered with tiny print. The paper had many creases in it from having been folded up very small. On the coffee table sat a small white cardboard box with a printed prescription label on it. There was also a small white paper bag, emblazoned with the logo of their local chemist, open on the coffee table too.

Neil seemed engrossed in reading the tiny print on the piece of paper. It had also become their custom that week for Lara to have to initiate any conversation.

"So, I take it you went to the doctor?" she asked.

"What? Er, yeah. I got this" Neil distractedly replied, as if the rest of the story was implicitly clear.

Lara stifled a sigh and went upstairs to get changed out of her work clothes. Clearly she was going to have to drag the rest of the details out of him. Frustration replaced a sense of relief that Neil was up and about and had finally sought a doctor's opinion.

Unhurriedly making her way back downstairs, Lara sat down next to Neil on the sofa. She was close, deliberately invading his personal space in the hope of waking him from his trancelike state, studying the leaflet that must have accompanied the medication that he had been prescribed. Neil paused and looked her in the eye for a fraction of a second, but then feigned continuing to read his leaflet.

"So, what happened, at the doctor?" Lara patiently asked.

Neil went to answer but then held his words back. He opened his mouth as if to speak but then froze and it became clear he didn't know how to begin. After a moment, his face flushed and he started to blurt out words.

"They called my name. I sat down. Asked how she could help. Burst into tears. Couldn't stop crying" Neil haltingly said. He was emotional, but he didn't seem like he was on the verge of tears. He seemed somewhere between embarrassment and confusion.

After a moment, he seemed to calm himself down and he began again, more relaxed than before.

"The doctor said it was OK and I should take my time. I started to tell her that I couldn't get up in the mornings. I couldn't face going to work. I couldn't face the world. I was tired. So very tired"

He took a breath. He was blurting his words out very quickly.

"She asked how long it had been going on for and I told her a few weeks..."

"A few weeks?" Lara now interjected, even though she was clearly cutting Neil off mid-sentence. Her mouth hung partly open, further betraying her shock.

"I mean the tiredness. Not the getting up" Neil replied.

"Yes, but why didn't you say something before?" said Lara in a tone that was concerned, not angry. She was reacting reflexively, but she knew she had to try to control herself if she wanted to avoid upsetting Neil.

"The doctor. She said I sounded as though I was depressed and anxious" said Neil, ignoring the question. "She asked me if I had heard of flux-o-tin" he said.

"Fluoxetine?" asked Lara, enunciating the syllables - flew-ox-ah-teen - with a little emphasis, but not so much that she would sound patronising.

"Yeah, that one" replied Neil. "She said that many patients found that it helped them when they were feeling anxious about things, like work stress, as well as low mood. She said that my symptoms could be caused by an imbalance in my brain chemistry, and fluoxetine often helped to balance it out" Neil continued.

"Yes, I know fluoxetine. At work I have to help patients take their prescriptions that they bring from home. Quite a lot of them take fluoxetine. It's the same as Prozac" Lara said.

"Prozac? Well why doesn't it say that on the box or any of the leaflets?"

"Sometimes the pharmacy gives you a branded medication, sometimes they give you a generic version. At work we have to learn both the brand name of the medications as well as the active ingredient" Lara explained.

"But everybody's heard of Prozac" Neil stated, his voice now tinged with a degree of frustration.

Neil sat forward on the sofa and cast the leaflet he had been holding onto the coffee table with a dismissive flick of the wrist, before slumping back, looking away from Lara and staring up at the ceiling. Lara had seen this kind of reaction before at work when she saw doctors speaking to patients; normally young men. It was a kind of shock and disbelief; denial even. Lara couldn't understand why Neil was having this reaction now, with her, rather than earlier with the doctor.

"So I'm on Prozac. Great!" said Neil, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

"You know I've got to take this stuff for at least 6 weeks?" he said, now shaking the small white box at Lara, which rattled with the sound of the pills inside in their blister packaging. The question was rhetorical. He needed to vent.

"I felt relieved when the doctor signed me off sick for another two weeks, but now I don't know what to feel. Can you believe that the doctor even asked me what she should write on the sick note? Stress, anxiety, depression or just mental health problems. I didn't know what to say. She put me on the spot. I said she should write stress"

Lara reached for his hand and squeezed it. She made a sympathetic face.

"They're doing some blood tests too. Could be an under-active thyroid. Won't know until next week, but that's more what I was expecting, you know? Something physically wrong with me"

"I hate to bring this up, but we had planned to have dinner with Russ and Katie tonight. Do you want me to cancel? I'll ring them and come up with some excuse" Lara gently offered.

"I don't know. I don't know anything anymore. I'm confused. I'm upset. I'm frustrated" said Neil, standing up.

Looking down into Lara's eyes as she sat on the sofa, she sensed Neil's care for her and his awareness of her feelings too, but his thoughts were in turmoil. He turned and went upstairs. She heard him kick off his shoes and get into bed.

Neil was asleep, fully clothed, when she joined him in bed a little later. She guessed that it must have been an emotionally exhausting day for him. Perhaps it was side-effects from the medication.

 

Next chapter...

 

Chemical Hooks

10 min read

This is a story about addictive personalities...

Snorting Coffee

We all know what the root cause of addiction is, don't we? It's taking drugs. It's the chemicals that cause addiction, by getting their 'hooks' into us. We get hooked by these chemicals, and we're then going to be a filthy addict, until the day we die, right? Wrong.

Nobody would think that a sex addict injects prostitutes and pornographic DVDs. Nobody would think that a gambling addict would inject a pack of cards or casino chips. Nobody would think that an 'adrenalin junkie' would inject a snowboard or a mountain bike. Clearly, there's something else that's going on, apart from the chemicals that we put into our bodies.

In fact, none of us can survive without a whole chemical cocktail, of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and proteins. We put myriad chemicals into our bodies every day, and if we don't we are in some way deficient. I don't just mean in our diet that we consider 'food'.

Your morning cup of coffee is not food. If you were to have it black, with no milk or creamer, without any sugar, then you would find it very bitter. Espressos are very small. There is probably negligible calorific value in black coffee, so why would you drink it?

Similarly with tea, which is an infusion, very little nutritional value has passed from the tea leaves into the hot water. There is some value in drinking the water, but you'd be more hydrated if you just had it in unadulterated form.

Why do we put milk, creamer and sugar in our tea & coffee? To make it taste nicer. Why would you want to drink something that doesn't have any nutritional value, is less hydrating than water, doesn't taste very nice and needs something in it to mask the taste? Answer: because you have been habituated into drinking it.

Habituation is not the same as addiction.

I gave up all caffeine, and it was an incredibly hard thing to do. Once I had gotten over the headaches, I then had to suffer cognitive impairment, sluggishness, and tiredness. Then came the cravings. I used to fantasise about having hot drinks or an ice-cold Coca-Cola.

The combination of caffeine and sugar is certainly a nice thing to get habituated to, unlike cigarette smoking, and the chemical hooks definitely play a part in both - nicotine and caffeine - but it's the habituation that is the hard thing to break.

Are you bored? Have a cup of tea or coffee, or smoke a cigarette. Are you anxious? Have a cup of tea or coffee, or smoke a cigarette. Are you waiting around for somebody? Have a cup of tea or coffee, or smoke a cigarette. Are you trying to concentrate on some work? Have a cup of tea or coffee, or smoke a cigarette. Are you travelling somewhere? Have a cup of tea or coffee, or smoke a cigarette.

The habit-forming things that we do become the punctuation in our life. Our dirty little habits become a measure of time. We get through our days with a remarkably similar amount of cups of tea or coffee, diet cokes and cigarettes. We know we've had a super stressful day when we've ripped through a packet of smokes. We know we've had a super boring day when our bladder is full of tea. We know we were super exhausted, when we load up on coffee.

Beer in the sun

What about downers, sedatives, relaxants? Well, we need those to calm down from all those stimulants that get us through the day. If you've loaded up on caffeine - which is identical to amphetamine in the brain - then you're going to be full of nervous energy, and could even potentially suffer from insomnia if you've been having it late in the day.

Eventually though, you'll become tolerant of both your chosen uppers and your chosen downers. These habit-forming things will be woven seamlessly into your daily routine. Coffee with breakfast, tea breaks throughout the day, can of cola with your lunch, and wine, beer and spirits to relax after work.

All these things cost money and have either negligible nutritional value, or are actually bad for your health, so why don't you just quit? Well, you'll find it very hard to do if you try. You might think to yourself "there was that one time where I didn't have any coffee, so I can give up anytime I want" but actually, caffeine is everywhere in your life, and you're unwittingly topping yourself up, at least every couple of days. You probably didn't count the coffee you had after dinner at that restaurant at the weekend, or the can of cola that you had when you were out shopping.

Gamblers are notoriously bad at only remembering their wins, and forgetting about their losses. If you ask a gambler whether they've made money or lost money, over the course of the years they've been betting, they'll probably tell you they're "up" overall. This is nonsense. The more you play, the more you're down: it's a statistical inevitability. In much the same way, people just aren't able to admit to themselves how many cups of tea and coffee, cans of cola and cigarettes they consume. They have no idea how habituated they are.

But, is this addiction? No, it is not.

Addiction is the point where something becomes detrimental to your life but you're unable to stop. It's true that 50% of smokers will die as a result of complications associated with their habit, but at any one time, only a small percentage of smokers will actually be in immediate danger of dying of cancer, heart disease and other smoking-related diseases. It's easy - in the short term - to say that the bad stuff hasn't yet happened.

Most smokers, drinkers and consumers of caffeinated beverages, don't steal to support their habits. They are holding down jobs and providing for their families, even if they're spending a proportion of their income on their poisons. In this way, they're not actually addicts.

When we look at 'adrenalin junkies', many of them actually have toned and athletic physiques from a healthy outdoors lifestyle. What could be further from the life of a heroin junkie, who is pale and emaciated, than a surfer with their tanned and muscular body? A surfer wants to look after their body, because it provides the power to catch waves. An injecting heroin addict's body is ravaged by abscesses and collapsed veins, as the suffering individual places higher importance on intoxication, than on preserving their health.

So, language is failing to capture what exactly addiction really is. Loving your family or your pet is not an addiction. Enjoying sex is not an addiction. Playing poker is not an addiction. Being passionate about a hobby is not an addiction. Even drinking tea, coffee and smoking cigarettes is hard to call an addiction, until you develop a problem where you can't afford your habit or you have actually developed a disease.

I was once asked in rehab, where I was recovering from a binge on benzodiazepines and stimulants - whether I thought I was an addict. I replied that I didn't think I was an addict. I was going cold turkey from a horrible cocktail of about 5 different drugs, all of which I had paid for with money I had earned in my job. I had paid for the rehab out of money which I had saved up. When I got cleaned up, I went back to work as if nothing had happened. No lasting health damage. Nothing to suggest I had ever come off the rails.

Java house

It's stigma and ostracisation that creates 'addicts' in the conventional sense. For most people who struggle with drug addiction and alcoholism, we label them and make life extra hard for them to get ahead, get back on their feet. We put extra stresses and strains on them that other people don't have to face. We demonise and scapegoat them.

We are always asking how to free people from the chemicals; how to release them from the 'hooks', but we're asking the wrong questions. We should be asking what's so awful about a person's life that theft, prosititution and terrible health consequences are a preferable fate to whatever crappy alternative is seemingly offered.

Are there alternatives? We say that people should clean up, get a job, and live like 'normal' people. You mean the 'normal' people who drink poisonous bitter liquids in order to quench their thirst for something with no nutritious value? You mean the 'normal' people who inhale toxic smoke? You mean the 'normal' people who imbibe fermented fruit and grains in order to become intoxicated? Who the hell are these people to judge others who are merely less fortunate than them?

Would you employ an addict? Would you let them look after your kids, your money? No, I didn't think so. You've been indoctrinated into this culture of demonisation, where we're looking for convenient scapegoats, whether it's immigrants, blacks, Jews, the poor, the mentally ill, the sick or the needy. It's playground politics, where we pick on the weakest members of society, nothing more, nothing less.

My employers would shit a brick if they found out that I'd recently had my struggles with substance abuse, despite 30+ years of squeaky clean living. It doesn't seem to matter that I don't smoke, I don't take drugs, I quit boozing for the best part of 4 months. It doesn't seem to matter that I can start and stop at will. Nobody seems to take the blindest bit of notice of the obvious difference between me and a 'filthy junkie': it's the fact that I have opportunities that meant I was able to quit cold turkey and resume my normal life.

If I was to become labelled, and hamstrung by stigma, then I would without doubt just give up and while away my days in an intoxicated state. What would you do if you weren't able to get a job because you were no fixed abode, and the truthful answer to the question "what have you been doing with yourself recently?" was "getting ridiculously fucked up"? Try saying that at a job interview and see how it goes down.

I'm risking my entire career, my prospects, my future, by writing this so publicly, but why should I continue to prosper from my advantages when so many people are crushed underfoot for no more reason than because they're more honest and less fortunate?

What have I learned from my little trip to the bottom? I learned this: we're all the same under the skin. We all respond the same to stress, misfortune and every external circumstance that is beyond our control. Do people choose to get addicted to drugs? Only as much as they choose the colour of their skin, or the wealth and privilege of the family they're born into.

Take the red pill take the yellow pill

You'd probably choke on this giant pill. You wouldn't die because of the chemicals.

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