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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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Profligacy

7 min read

This is a story about out-of-control spending...

Wallet

This is my wallet. It doesn't contain any cash. In fact, it doesn't contain very much at all. It's very thin, although not as thin as my favourite wallet, which unfortunately wore out. I like having a thin wallet.

My wallet contains a 'debit' card for my personal account (known as a checking account in North America, I think), a 'debit' card for my business account, and two credit cards. Also, I keep my drivers license as photo ID, and some stamps, in case I need to mail anything. So, that's 4 bank/credit cards and a card-sized driving license: 5 cards in total. That's all I need.

Sure, I need a little cash from time to time. Frustratingly, I had used the small amount of cash that I carry to pay for something, when I needed to pay the guy who cleans the windows in our street, so I had to live with dirty windows for a little while longer than I would have liked to.

Cash tends to stay in my pocket for so long, that often it ceases to be in common circulation: the UK is replacing all of its 'paper' banknotes (they were actually more like a kind of fabric, but that's just a geeky fact for you) with 'plastic' ones. The UK is probably the world's number one place to launder money, so of course we need to have wipe-clean waterproof money.

Anybody who's used a plastic banknote to insufflate a powdered substance into their nose - not me, obviously - will tell you that the new banknotes will damage the delicate membrane of your nose and cause it to bleed, quite often. However, at least you can wipe the blood off. Paying for stuff with bloodstained banknotes is rather embarrassing (but not the reason why I don't carry much cash - I just don't need/use the stuff, for any purpose).

If you've followed my blog, or you know me as a close friend, then you'll know that I've suffered from depression which has been quite relentless and uninterrupted; interrupted only by suicide attempts, I should probably add. My will to live has been long absent.

I was starting to give up and abandon all hope of surviving for more than a few more months. I was certain that if Christmas didn't kill me, like it almost did last year, then I'll certainly die in April or May next year. Basically, I could see no future for myself; no point in suffering any longer.

Then, I had a great idea: I'll buy a really fancy gaming computer, so I can play driving simulators, flight simulators, turn-based strategy games on a big monitor, and retro console games... generally get into gaming in a really big way.

But.

It was not a good idea.

Part of the reason for my depression, is because I'm home alone, in front of a screen all day. Part of the reason for my depression, is because of my sedentary lifestyle. Part of the reason for my depression, is that I lack real-world social interaction with people.

In short: the gaming PC was a bad idea.

But.

Then I had a really great idea, which was to buy a mountain bike.

I mean, I already have a mountain bike, so why would I buy another one? The mountain bike I have is the best that money can buy (to me at least) so why would I buy another one, if I couldn't buy a better one?

Good question.

Mountain biking is hard work. I used to be young, skinny and fit, but now I am old, fat(ter) and unfit. I am by no means obese and I am by no means so unfit that I can't do exercise, but my health and fitness have been grossly neglected during my interminable depression, as well as during lockdown, which made things even worse. I did try to finish the lockdown fitter, thinner and generally healthier than when I started, but, it was very hard. The best I managed to do, was to stop the rot, a little bit.

Pedalling a mountain bike uphill is hard work. You have to move the weight of the bike, the equipment, your clothes and your body, uphill. My super nice mountain bike weighs 24 pounds (11kg), my equipment could be zero I guess, if I was going for minimum weight, my clothes, including shoes, could be as little as 4 pounds (2kg)... but the heaviest thing is me. I weigh at least 22 pounds (10kg) more than I did when I used to ride my mountain bike regularly. So, basically, if I was to ride up a hill, it would be like me riding up that hill with a whole extra mountain bike on my back. Plus, I'm unfit too.

So what's the solution? Lose weight, right? Catch 22.

The best way to lose weight is to exercise, but if your favourite form of exercise - mountain biking in this case - has gone from something which is difficult but enjoyable; rewarding... into something which is so exhausting that it will destroy you to just go up one single hill, then the barrier to entry is too high.

What did I do? I bought a mountain bike which assists with my pedalling, to make it feel like I'm 22 pounds lighter. In fact, the mountain bike I bought can also assist with the pedalling so much, that it's like I'm young and fit too! Of course, I still have to pedal, and that still requires energy, so I'm getting the exercise I need to lose weight and to get fit again.

What I also did was buy a bunch of other stuff: waterproofs so I can go out in the rain, super-padded underwear to protect my ass (because it got soft since I didn't ride a bike for a long time) and a whole bunch of other really expensive stuff. Could I have done without that stuff? Sure. I guess I could carry a heavy mountain bike for miles and miles because I got a puncture. Sure. I guess I could get soaking wet, because it's autumn now and will soon be winter. Sure. I guess I could get run over by a car on the way to/from where I'm riding, in the dark autumn/winter bad weather. For sure, I could have avoided getting that stuff and said "I'm not going out on my bike today, because it's raining/dark/I've got a puncture or whatever".

You bet I'm worried that my spending is out of control. I spent a whole month's income.

Every. Single. Penny.

Like, no money for rent, no money for food, no money for bills, no money for transport... no money for anything except my bike, and the stuff to go with it. I spent every single penny of last month's 'wages'.

So, am I stupid? Am I rubbish with money? Am I a lost cause.

Well, I wanted to commit suicide for a very long time, but now I'm just excited about riding my bike; now I've got a reason for living again. I'm not sure how long that's going to last, but money really can buy happiness, it seems; or at least money can get rid of depression, temporarily. Maybe, like a drug, the depression will only go away for a really short time and I'll have a terrible hangover/comedown. I expect that's true, but let's not be too hasty. Last time I did something like this, I got fit, healthy, happy, more social, more attractive athletic body, identity, self-esteem, and I had a lot of fun. Let's wait a while before we start calling me stupid for doing this.

 

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Second Lockdown

3 min read

This is a story about a broken record...

Names

What's the exact idiom? A broken record surely wouldn't play at all, so I always reject the idiom "broken record" thinking it must instead be "scratched record". However, I don't think we really use the idiom "scratched record" so I'll stick with my original preamble, which was probably correct insofar as being a well-understood idiom, but literally wrong, like so many things in life.

Anyway.

I've been a bit of a broken record, meaning that I've been repeating myself a lot.

I'm in lockdown, again. Last time I was in lockdown, I stopped writing because I didn't want to drive myself and everyone else round the bend with my repetitive days; I knew that it would be a marathon, not a sprint, to the finish. The first lockdown lasted longer than almost everyone had anticipated, but I had psychologically prepared myself for it to last many months, so I was OK. I also anticipated that this second lockdown was a certainty, so I was psychologically prepared, except I haven't taken the step of stopping writing.

I was planning on having a totally sober October, as has been my tradition. Also, I was supposed to get a new mountain bike, so I could start getting fitter and shedding some korona kilograms: I've put on weight, having been more sedentary than normal, and also utterly devastatingly depressed about the lack of opportunity this year to have travel and adventure, like normal.

I'm not sure I could stand the sound of my own voice - or my words - if I have to write for a whole month, sober and in lockdown. I might have to take a break from writing again.

The world is pretty toxic to mental health at the moment. The impending US presidential election, the impending no-deal Brexit, the never-ending pandemic, the impending economic armageddon, the rioting... the lockdown of course, and the effect of being under the same roof 24 x 7 x 365.

I find writing therapeutic, but what am I going to tell you about my present situation every day: it'll be the same. Still need that mountain bike so I can go and exercise, still need to stay sober, still need to eat less, still working on an important project I can't tell you about, still under lockdown, still depressed, still suicidal. It's going to be groundhog day; repetitive.

So, I'm warning you: if I keep writing and you keep reading, things might get pretty samey.

 

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World Suicide Prevention Day 2020

4 min read

This is a story about survival...

Suicide method

If you're an intelligent-sounding posh middle-class chap, dressed presentably, who has the outward appearance of having their shit together, doctors trust you more than other more disadvantaged members of society. Because I appear, to all intents and purposes, like a functional, productive, fine upstanding member of society, I was able to obtain six boxes of the maximum strength of tramadol. Each box contained 112 tablets.

My need for the tramadol - a strong opiate painkiller - had originally been legitimate, but I had weaned myself off it and managed to cope with the pain, without these painkillers. Instead, I stockpiled my prescriptions, with the intention of killing myself.

I managed to accumulate 672 of these incredibly strong opiate painkillers, with 50 milligrams of tramadol in each capsule.

The lethal dose of tramadol, which will kill 50% of rats and mice in laboratory experiments, is 350 milligrams per kilogram of body weight. Assuming that my body weight is 80kg, then the lethal dose which would give me a 50/50 chance of survival, would be 28,000mg.

6 boxes, with 112 capsules, with 50mg of tramadol, equals 33,600mg.

33,600 is a bigger number than 28,000.

672 capsules is a heck of a lot of capsules.

* * *

On the 9th of September, 2017, I swallowed 672 capsules containing 50mg of tramadol. It was a time consuming exercise. Filling my mouth with capsules and gulping them down with wine - because alcohol would increase the lethality - meant that this was a quite drawn-out exercise. With each mouthful of capsules I swallowed, I was acutely aware that I was slowly reaching a dose which would almost certainly be fatal, but I had plenty of time to think about what I was doing. If I was going to hesitate, there was plenty of time to hesitate.

I did not hesitate.

Then, I waited.

To be precise, I set a timer on my phone. I knew that after a certain amount of time had elapsed - at least an hour - then the capsule shells would be fully dissolved and their contents would be dumped into my stomach and intestines, where the tramadol would start to be absorbed into my bloodstream. I knew that if I could avoid being discovered for an hour, then I would almost certainly die.

After 45 minutes, I felt that I was beyond the point of no return. I was extremely overwhelmed by the powerful painkillers entering my bloodstream, killing me. I decided to send a final tweet, saying goodbye.

* * *

I woke up in a hospital intensive care bed.

I didn't realise I was in hospital.

I didn't know what the hell was going on.

I had been in a coma for days.

* * *

So, I survived that suicide attempt.

I've never felt that I was glad to survive that suicide attempt.

I've definitely felt that I wish I didn't survive that suicide attempt, on many occasions.

* * *

If we want to prevent suicides, which I very much do, then we need to first understand why people commit suicide. We need to acknowledge that there are reasons and that very often there are not - in fact - any other choices available. Imagine if you met somebody suicidal and you asked them what's wrong, and they said to you "I'm thousands of pounds in debt", you wouldn't say, "well, it's your lucky day because I have thousands of pounds of savings". No. What you would say would be "have you tried phoning the Samaritans?". Nobody really wants to prevent suicide. Sure, some people would like it if there wasn't any suicide, the same way that people would like it if there wasn't any man-made climate change, but nobody's actually going to fucking do anything about it.

I've written one of these blog posts every year, since my suicide attempt, which almost killed me on World Suicide Prevention Day 2017. I write one of these every year, but nothing much changes.

Nothing much changes, but I do now have a million readers every year, visiting my website, looking for information on suicide.

Nothing much changes, but I do spend all my waking hours thinking about suicide. Not just my own suicide, but also other people who are suicidal: I think about how to make some real, meaningful, tangible changes in the world, which actually reduce the number of people committing suicide. Not just the usual bullshit about crisis counselling phone numbers.

 

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Invasive Thoughts

4 min read

This is a story about Tourette's...

Surveillance owl

I struggle with invasive thoughts. The thoughts are so traumatic that they cause me to wince and yell. I shout out in pain and shock when the thoughts hit me. It makes me appear like I have a tic.

What is a tic anyway?

Somebody who suffers with Tourette's is able to suppress their tic for a brief period, but then they have to let it out; to scratch the itch, as it were. I'm not claiming to have Tourette's of course, but I have some of the symptoms.

I live alone - except for my cat - in a big old house with thick walls, so I can shout out when I get hit by the invasive thoughts, and I'm mostly not bothering anybody. Sometimes I go out for a walk and I can't control the thoughts, so I yell out and flinch - tic - while I'm walking down the road. If anybody sees me, they must think that I'm very strange.

I can control my tic - mostly - when I'm in a work setting. Sometimes it gets the better of me and I mutter something or flinch in the company of my colleagues. They mostly don't notice or comment, but sometimes they do, occasionally.

I don't particularly try to control my tic when I'm with my girlfriend. We're usually in a relaxed private setting anyway, so I don't have to concentrate on controlling it as much as I can. The invasive thoughts, yelling, yelping, flinching, grimacing and other things too, happen all the time. It's fairly disconcerting to anybody who's not spent time in the company of somebody with the particular neurological complaint.

I won't be seeking any medical help for the problem. It seems to be exacerbated by alcohol, or rather by withdrawal from alcohol, so the solution is to either drink all the time, or not drink at all. I need to lose some weight and get healthier, so I am choosing the latter at the moment. It's not a severe and debilitating enough problem to seek medical help.

You know when you lie awake at night and you start remembering lots of embarrassing memories? Imagine that, except that it happens from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep, and the memories are so traumatic they feel like they're causing you physical pain. That's what my invasive thoughts are like.

I might have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It seems likely. Given the severity of the trauma I've experienced, and the long-lasting problems I'm having as a result of it, it seems like the most probable thing. It's well beyond "embarrassing memories".

The thoughts don't particularly bother me; they're fleeting. Of course, I'd rather that I didn't yell, grimace, flinch and otherwise react to the severe traumatic flashbacks, but the damage is done and there's nothing much I can do about it. My life is - on the whole - unaffected by the invasive thoughts, given that they are short sharp shocks and not bothering me except for those unpredictable but frequent instants.

I wonder if I've got brain damage, but the question is a bit of a non-sequitur. The brain is a plastic organ, so it's continuously adapting; I definitely don't have a traumatic brain injury or any impairment to suggest any lasting permanent physical damage which my brain hasn't been able to adapt to, and doesn't continuously continue to adapt to.

There have been plenty of incidents which are bound to have damaged my organs, but my physical health seems mostly OK. Of course my kidneys and heart are a worry, and my general fitness levels have dropped to a really bad level, but I'm working on getting fitter.

In the course of writing this, I haven't been bothered by invasive thoughts at all; they only bother me when I'm bored. I like to keep busy. I like to keep my mind occupied. If my brain is active then it doesn't have time for invasive thoughts.

 

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Drinking in Moderation

3 min read

This is a story about the insidious creep of alcoholism...

Fridge

I decided that I was putting on weight, and that I didn't like that; I wanted to get fit and healthy. At the start of the lockdown I was drinking every day - 7 days a week - and I started drinking straight after I finished work each day. I was drinking far too much; it was excessive.

I went teetotal for a couple of months. My liver needed a break. In fact all of my brain and body was extremely grateful for a break from intoxicating liquor. I'd like to say that I felt great after a couple of months of non-drinking, but I didn't. However, if I had carried on drinking at the rate I was, then my health would have suffered immensely, and I would be very depressed about being overweight. As it stands now, I'm not happy with my weight, but I'm not unhappy either.

After my lengthy period of tee-totalling, I decided to try to drink in moderation. I was going to allow myself to drink 1 (one) bottle of wine per week, on a Saturday night, as a treat.

Keeping the amount of wine I have in the house to a minimum is a good idea. If I have it in the house, I'll drink it.

Soon, all my plans went out of the window. I decided I was allowed two bottles of wine per week - one on Friday and one on Saturday - but I foolishly decided to buy both bottles at once, and then ended up dipping into the second bottle on Friday night, and buying another one on Saturday.

The weekend just gone, I ended up drinking about 4 bottles of wine, although I did share some of it. I drank on Sunday too, which is against the rules.

I've paid a high price for heavy drinking. My sleep has been appalling. I've been tormented with invasive thoughts, stress and anxiety. I've had a dreadful tic - an involuntary vocalisation like Tourette's - due to the extreme change in brain chemistry. My brain is not in a good state to segue from stone cold sober, to very drunk, and back to stone cold sober - it's far too anxiety-inducing. I was stuttering and almost unable to speak at one point, due to the anxiety induced by abruptly stopping drinking. I don't get the shakes, for some reason.

But is it alcoholism?

Well, given that I am managing to minimise the harm that alcohol is doing to my health and my life, it is not alcoholism. I meet neither the medical definition, of physical dependence on alcohol, nor the other definition, which says that a person is an alcoholic if harm is being done to them by their alcoholism. Alcoholics are also not able to start and stop drinking at will, obviously.

I've definitely failed at drinking in moderation, though. Alcohol is definitely a crutch; a medication. I don't have a good relationship with alcohol, even if I am able to avoid its harm.

I need to find some other kind of [healthy] outlet.

 

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Lockdown Improvements

5 min read

This is a story about the Coronavirus pandemic...

Lighthouse

Many people planned to come out of lockdown with new hobbies, fitter, healthier, happier and myriad other unachievable unrealistic things. I think that we have mostly come out of lockdown fatter, more unfit, poorer, more insecure, lonely, isolated, bored and generally worse off.

I started the lockdown drinking very heavily and eating McDonald's breakfast every morning. I decided that if we were going to be suffering the misery of being under house arrest, then I would treat myself. Quickly I realised that I was going to end up with clogged arteries and morbidly obese. I was eating takeaway several nights a week and not doing any exercise.

I started the lockdown physically dependent on sleeping pills to get to sleep, and using two different tranquillising sedatives to cope with unbearable anxiety. I decided it was too much hassle to try to keep stocked up with the medications I needed during the lockdown, and I calculated that I have enough left to be able to taper myself off. I didn't want to run out of medication suddenly in the middle of a pandemic.

I started the lockdown working on my sofa, fully reclined. I realised that my posture and back would be ruined by working in such a position for 8 hours a day, followed by many more hours on the sofa after finishing work.

Things had to change.

I thought the lockdown would last a month or two, but I must admit that I didn't think it would drag on beyond a quarter of the year. I tried my best to psychologically prepare myself for the lockdown lasting for months, but I was hopeful it'd be all over after 6 to 8 weeks.

I bought a desk and an office chair.

I weaned myself off the sleeping pills and tranquillisers.

I cut down my drinking, and even went teetotal for 6 or 7 weeks.

I started exercising. Not, like, exercising exercising. Just going for a 10km walk every day. Enough to keep me a little bit active, but nothing crazy.

I stopped getting takeaways. All those takeaways were costing quite a lot of money, when they were all added up. Sure, I felt like I could justify spending the money to enjoy some nice food, as compensation for the doom and gloom of the hundreds of thousands of people dying all over the world, and the restrictions to our freedom... but it wasn't healthy and it was costing a packet.

I paid off all my debt. This wasn't so much a planned thing. It was something that just happened to co-incide with the lockdown. However, it feels pretty damn good to have some savings now. I have a net worth again, which feels good. I have some financial security, even if it is pretty negligible. It had been a very long time which I'd been struggling to get my finances sorted, and it's a big relief to be back in the black.

My life is extremely austere and simple. I have my house, my job, my cat, my car; that's it. My health is probably OK. My weight is OK, although I am carrying some extra weight I'd like to shift, as a consequence of lockdown. My finances are OK. My job seems OK. My housing situation is sort of OK. My kitten is great, although my cat is lost... overall OK. My car has a big dent where an idiot crashed into it during lockdown, in a virtually empty car park, but there are more important things in life than having a shiny perfect car.

All things considered, I think I'm one of the lockdown winners - I'm emerging in far better shape than I went into lockdown. Some people have lost their job, or are about to lose their job. Some people have struggled with alcohol and food. Some people have struggled with mental health. In almost every area of my life, things have improved; I look reasonably well positioned to weather a difficult autumn and winter.

Although losing my cat was the worst thing that happened, it has forced me to connect with my neighbours and the wider community, so I have even managed to live a far less isolated and lonely existence under lockdown, than I was living before - I speak to far more people; I'm more connected and socially engaged.

I thought that if I retreated inwards, living and communicating through my blog and social media, then I would find it impossible to get through the lockdown. It looks like a reasonably good decision, to have taken a break.

It helps that it's summer - of course - which lifts my mood and generally creates a more pleasant and favourable backdrop for life, but I feel hopeful that I've got a decent position of health and financial stability to fight through the autumn and winter. I just need to book some holidays now... I've worked non-stop since early January, when I was discharged from hospital.

 

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Blogger's Digest - Day Eleven of #NaNoWriMo2019

9 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Eleven

Tim had very kindly agreed to assist with the first leg of the passage - from Brighton to Roscoff. He would then take a ferry back to the UK. It was no more than a couple of days, but it was all the time he could spare, away from his family duties. I was very glad to at least start the lengthy journey with 3 experienced skippers aboard.

The logistics were torturously complex. I had to collect Tim from his home in Hampshire, bring him to Brighton, then he would be collected in Plymouth by his poor wife, who'd have been left home alone with the children for 3 nights. For Tim, it would hardly be much fun, given that a substantial part of our crossing would be at night and none of us could get drunk, but he seemed to enjoy offshore sailing.

I did not enjoy offshore sailing.

The English Channel has busy shipping lanes and strong tides. The currents around the Channel Islands were extremely fast and dangerous. The Channel crossing from England to France sounded like enough fun to tempt Tim, but I was dreading it. At least with experienced help aboard, I felt far less weight of responsibility on my shoulders.

As we approached the Cherbourg Peninsula - some distance offshore - we were intercepted by a French customs vessel, which loud-hailed us and instructed us in French to switch to a specific VHF radio channel, whereupon they told us to prepare to be boarded. Mercifully, my French was quite good and Ian possessed a particular International Certificate of Competence, which they were very keen to see. The UK has no regulation of who is allowed to take to the water in a sailboat or motorboat - akin to allowing people to drive on the roads without a license - so the French were particularly careful about who they allowed to cross from international water into French territory, especially if they were most probably from the UK. Incompetent UK skippers would often be ordered to get out of French waters.

Having dropped Tim off in Roscoff, Ian and I took the opportunity to have a couple of restaurant meals, drink some wine and a good night's sleep, before we set off on the next leg of the journey.

Crossing the Bay of Biscay was the part of the entire trip which I was dreading the most, because we would be further offshore than we were at any other point. To hug the coast of Western France and Northern Spain would be a huge and unnecessary detour, adding a great deal of travel time, but I was prepared to do it in order to be close to a number of ports, if we decided that we wanted to stop for rest or shelter. Ian convinced me that we would be able to manage the crossing between just the two of us, dividing each 24 hour period into 6 watches, lasting 4 hours - this would allow us to sail continuously and arrive at the tip of North-Western Spain without being too sleep deprived. "It will be a slog" Ian said, "but it will be worth it to make good progress".

The forecast predicted plenty of westerly wind, which was encouraging. I was hopeful that we would be able to make the crossing in good time.

I had not considered the rain.

Each 4-hour watch was quite punishing and unpleasant. With the wind and waves hitting the yacht at a 45 degree angle, the bow slammed quite heavily into the choppy water, and vast amounts of spray and rain were driven into the skipper's face. Facing backwards helped immensely, and was necessary to check for any large cargo vessels, cruise ships, tankers and other large ships which approached rapidly from behind. However, it was also necessary to keep looking forwards as much as possible, to keep an eye on the instruments and a look out for any large ships coming in the opposite direction.

As a pleasure-cruising yacht, designed for comfort as a 'floating caravan' she was ideal when moored up in a marina, or for short trips in fine weather, but lacked any of the equipment which she needed for offshore sailing. Without radar and an auto-helm system, which worked well when the wind and waves were unpredictable, she was entirely reliant on her skipper to be far more alert and in control, than any vessel which would ordinarily undertake such a long offshore passage.

To save the hull and rigging from the worst of the constant pounding by the waves, Ian and I steered my yacht up and down the crest and trough of every wave individually, trying to minimise the number of times when the bow would come clear out of the water, and come crashing back down, violently shaking the whole yacht.

Because of the wind direction, it was more important - more efficient - to keep the direction aligned with the wind direction, than to steer the most direct course. We could travel one or two knots - nautical miles per hour - faster if we kept the sails filled with wind from the correct direction, by constantly steering the boat, hunting for the optimal angle. Over the course of the 500 nautical mile leg, this would equate to 12 hours or maybe even a whole 24 hours saved. Perhaps it might not sound worth the saving to an ordinary person, but to competitive sailors like Ian and I, we were keen to cross the Bay of Biscay in the quickest possible time.

Taking it in turns to rest/sleep below decks, alternating as skipper at the helm, we hardly spoke for the whole journey, besides exchanging a few pleasantries. At the end of each watch, enough spray and rain had penetrated our wet-weather gear, that we were damp and cold, and desperate to peel off the soggy clothes and warm up in bed, sheltered from the wind.

It was not at all fun.

As we passed well beyond the point of no return, where it would have been completely pointless and counter-productive to turn back, I spent an entire 4 hour watch having a mild panic attack, feeling as though I had made a huge mistake and that we should turn back. Why was I putting myself through this, I asked myself. I had plenty of money to have my yacht delivered by either a professional crew, or else I could have her transported by road or sea. Why had I done this?

"Change of plan. I'm going to spend the summer in Bordeaux" I said to Ian, as soon as he arrived on deck to swap over with me.

"You've never been this far offshore have you?" he asked.

"No. It's bloody terrifying" I admitted.

"I had the exact same reaction you're having, the first time I crossed the Bay of Biscay. It's natural. It'll pass" he said, reassuringly.

"But this is miserable" I complained.

"At least we've got wind. We were becalmed for two days when I did it."

"Sure, but it's right on the nose. Close-hauled all the way" I whined.

"Call yourself a racer?" Ian joked, with a huge grin. The upwind leg of any race was always the most exciting, when every sailboat would be tacking backwards and forwards, and each time your path crossed with another competitor, you knew whether you were ahead or behind in the race. The upwind leg was where races could be won and lost, by pinching a little bit more, and squeezing a little more performance out of your sailboat than your competitors could. Ian was right: viewed as a very long race, I should have been loving the sailing.

"It would be stupid to give up at this point, wouldn't it?" I asked.

"Yes. This is the hardest part. You don't want to bail out now and spend your summer in Bordeaux. If you keep going, at least if you decided to bail out halfway you can spend your summer in the Balearics, and pay a visit to the Côte d'Azur."

He was right. I didn't want to spend my summer still stuck on the Atlantic Coast; I didn't want to spend my summer in Bordeaux. I wanted to get as far south as possible and into the sheltered warm water beyond the Gibraltar Straits.

"Thanks, Ian" I said. Below deck, I realised that I was finally now committed to an idea which had seemed so appealing in principle, and I knew would be rewarding in the end, but I had always been aware would be a huge challenge. My life had been quite easy in many ways, so I suppose I wanted to challenge myself like this; I wanted the sense of achievement. However, when faced with the enormity of the task ahead, I most definitely wanted to take the easy way out. I was glad that Ian had talked me out of abandoning the trip. I felt a little ashamed that I wasn't as dedicated and committed to sailing - and its occasional hardships - as my friends.

As I settled down to attempt a nap, I thought about how authentically my friend Tim had lived his life: pursuing his passion for sailing, instead of chasing money and sacrificing his pleasant life by the sea, for city living. He seemed happy and contented. I wondered if I had made the right choices in life, as I fell asleep in my bed, which was being fairly violently shaken as Ian steered us expertly through the waves.

 

Next chapter...

 

Blogger's Digest - Day Three of #NaNoWriMo2019

11 min read

Blogger's Digest: a Novel

Contents

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Three

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why couldn't I get out of bed?

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, please" I replied.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes. We just completed an important project."

"Working long hours?" she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Next chapter...

 

Step Twelve: Competition Provides Motivation

6 min read

This is a story about wanting to be number one...

Marathon

"I'll quit... tomorrow" is the old joke and oft-repeated mantra of many an addict and alcoholic. For those who wish to achieve something difficult, with limited reward, it seems obvious that they would be setting themselves up to fail if they were only doing something because they were being coerced by family, friends, co-workers, doctors and/or wider society, which pours scorn on our vices. Why should we give up our vices? Why should we live without the little things which "take the edge off" a rather miserable and painful mortal existence?

There is very little motivation, if the only achievement is to end up not doing something. What is anybody going to say to you if you're not smoking, for example? Nobody is going to congratulate you for not smoking, so what is the reward? If you don't drink, you're quite likely to be punished for your abstinence - social exclusion and peer pressure are commonplace for teetotallers.

It's hard to achieve anything if success is only measured by yourself - only you know how hard it was to achieve what you've achieved, and the fact that you aren't allowed to keep telling people how great it is that you don't drink and you don't smoke, unless you want to be hated for being horribly smug with yourself, means that you might as well not bother trying to do anything difficult, which doesn't bring praise and admiration.

We can watch with wonder as a young kid does 100 keepie-uppies with a football. We can all watch with wonder as a person wheelies their bicycle down the road. We can all marvel at the skill and fitness of sportsperson, but just looking at an average person who's not drinking, smoking or taking drugs, it's pretty hard to understand that it might be a massive achievement for them, to be avoiding those addictive substances on a daily basis.

Thus, the solution is to create artificial competition.

My first lengthy period of sobriety - 121 consecutive days - was achieved when I wanted to beat a friend's record of 100 consecutive days, and I wanted to beat it by a significant margin in order to make it harder for him to re-take the lead in our competition. Using competition in this way was extremely effective as a motivational tool.

My present episode of self-imposed abstinence from alcohol has been partly motivated by the public declaration that I would be doing this, and therefore there are friends who have been following my progress - they will feel happy that I've completed "Sober October" and they will congratulate me, which provides the necessary praise and reward to make it worthwhile.

My current sobriety began when I was chatting with a work colleague and we were discussing the damage that alcohol had wrought in the lives of people they knew, and I made a commitment to stop drinking for a period of time. The time period was unspecified, but I felt obliged to follow-through with a significant period of sobriety, because my colleague showed that they care about me, and they will be pleased that I have been taking a break from drinking.

Competition is something which I mostly hate, because it brings out the worst in people: cheating and bullying; the strong crushing the weak. I think that competition is a poor basis for a civilised society, because it's miserable for everybody except the person in first place. Competition leads to a race to the bottom. Competition quite naturally leads to an anxious state of affairs, where there is continual pressure to compete, which is toxic to any sense of safety and security, and destroys people's mental health. Competition is unhealthy.

I've used competition as I kind of "I bet you I can quit alcohol for a significant period of time" kind of thing, which has provided the motivation to allow me to give my body a break from drinking. I can tell my work colleague that I've been sober for 43 consecutive days, without being smug about it. I can tell my work colleagues that I spent the whole of October sober, without being too smug about it. I can tell you - my dear readers - that I'm doing what I set out to do, which is to maintain control over an addictive substance, which is insidious and had crept into my life too much, so I cut it out for a while.

I have friends who have decided to be teetotal for life. I'm sure they will live longer, healthier lives because of that decision, and I'm sure it will give them more money to spend and they will have more time and money. Those are fantastic benefits, but I'm quite content to remain a person who drinks alcohol, given that I cannot find adequate motivation to be a lifelong teetotaller. Wine and beer bring me more pleasure than the benefits of total abstinence, although I do need to take regular breaks - like this one - from my drinking habits.

I'm not sure when I'm going to drink again. Every day after today is a bonus: an extra day which benefits my health, but yet I feel no more obligation to remain totally sober, given that I've got another lengthy period of sobriety under my belt, which has improved my health, given my liver a chance to repair itself and helped me to lose a little weight (or at least not gain any).

I could continue not drinking, in order to achieve goals like getting fitter, losing weight and being more active, but it's cold and wet and wintery and I really can't be bothered. One step at a time. I'm struggling to get motivated about much at the moment, so I am content to celebrate this minor victory: 43 consecutive days without any alcohol and a fully Sober October.

 

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Step Eleven: Avoid The Supermarket

4 min read

This is a story about marketing...

Deals deals deals

I was on my way home and decided to nip into a large supermarket, as opposed to my small local shop, where I usually top up my groceries on a more regular basis. If I go to a large supermarket, I'm always tempted to fill a trolley with lots of nice things and purchase far more food than it's possible for me to consume before its expiry date, which is incredibly wasteful. I do enjoy shopping in supermarkets, but there are a multitude of temptations, which are better avoided. Less choice is better, because it means that I only purchase the specific items I need.

Of course, supermarkets are aware of the human psychological fallibility, when it comes to being presented with greater choice. If one set of test subjects are offered a bowl full of multicoloured sweets, and another set of test subjects are offered a bowl of sweets of a single colour, more of the multicoloured sweets will be consumed, even though the only difference between them is the variety of colours - the flavours are identical. We are programmed to consume the greatest possible variety, because this would have conveyed an evolutionary advantage, given that our bodies need trace amounts of micronutrients, which we wouldn't get if we only ate our favourite thing, exclusively.

As I lingered by the checkout, waiting to pay for my groceries, I could see two aisles full of alcohol, in very close proximity to where I was forced to wait. In fact, I had been forced to walk past two alcohol aisles twice, due to the layout of the supermarket. At the end of each aisle were various alcohol deals, along with other aisles which also had alcohol deals at the end, and alcohol deals which were part of meal deals, and other displays of bottles of wine which were dotted around the store. As a conservative estimate, I must have been presented with the opportunity to purchase alcohol - within grabbing distance - perhaps 20 times in one supermarket visit, despite the fact that I didn't walk down either of the alcohol aisles.

Given that I have completed 30 of the 31 days of "Sober October" it was highly tempting to buy some alcohol in preparation for November 1st, when my self-imposed period of sobriety ends (perhaps). I tried to remember that I promised myself I would endure with my alcohol-free existence until I had achieved some tangible goals, such as weight loss and generally feeling healthier and happier, but the combination of payday and November 1st being a Friday, plus my flawless completion of 42 consecutive days of sobriety, was leading me to feel as though I 'deserved' to get drunk at the end of the working week.

It's virtually impossible to avoid supermarkets, corner shops and indeed, to travel anywhere without passing an off-license or some other premises that sells alcohol. Alcohol is ubiquitous. I pity alcoholics, and I pity recovering alcoholics, who must continually endure marketing attempts to push them into relapse. While my 42 consecutive days of sobriety have passed with relative ease, it must be a nightmare for somebody with a serious alcohol addiction, or somebody who has conquered alcoholism but is always at risk of relapse.

"Avoid the supermarket" is terrible advice, because it's nearly impossible, but I thought I should write about it anyway. We need to acknowledge that the most dangerous and damaging drug - alcohol - which costs our society by far and away the most amount of money due to antisocial behaviour, health damage, loss of productivity and a whole raft of other problems, is something which is sold anywhere and everywhere, and heavily marketed and promoted. It's virtually impossible to avoid alcohol being "pushed" by a "drug pedaler".

My present period of sobriety has brought me no particular weight loss, health improvements or otherwise discernable benefits, but I'm glad I've done it. I'm glad to have demonstrated that I can stop drinking whenever I need or want to, because alcohol is insidious and can easily creep into your daily routine, and slowly destroy your health. It's been useful to be acutely aware of how regularly I am drawn to the alcohol which is on sale in so many locations, as to make it all-but unavoidable.

 

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