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

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Blogger's Digest - Day 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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Step Ten: Don't Suffer Fools

10 min read

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

Doorway

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yet, I did not abandon the friendship.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Survival is paramount.

 

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Step Six Is Not Halfway

3 min read

This is a story about setting expectations...

Counting                              The way that I've ever achieved anything is by setting my expectations, such that I'm aiming higher than I need to. Isn't there an idiom which says that if you want to reach the moon then you should aim for the stars? I hate stupid trite contrived quotations, but I've always found that pessimistic estimates are the best ones, although somewhat depressing at first.

Rather than setting myself a goal of 28 days sobriety, and celebrating at day 14, instead I started at some point in September and I'm planning on continuing into November. By setting myself a goal which is far harder than a simple month of sobriety, I have assured myself at least four weeks to give my liver a chance to recover, and to lose some weight. By over-achieving, this is a much more desirable outcome than an agonising crawl to the finish line, with the final part of the journey almost unbearable.

To celebrate so-called milestones like 'halfway' is setting yourself up for failure, because progress is nonlinear, and the difficulty of any given day is not comparable to any other day. Some days will be hard and some days will be easy. It is highly likely that the closer you get to one of your milestones, the harder you will find the task in hand.

In fact, having a time-based objective is probably of little or no use. My present objective is to improve my health, lose some weight and re-assert control over a substance - alcohol - which had crept its way far too habitually into my daily routine. If it takes me 6 weeks to achieve that goal, 6 months or 6 years, it doesn't matter, because the end result remains as desirable as ever. There's never going to be a problem trying to be healthier and keep the waistline under control, as well as not allowing the demon drink to become an addiction.

While I applaud anybody who has "Go[ne] Sober for October" my own personal objective was to aim higher than a simple month of abstinence from alcohol. I have less than a week to go before the October 31 "end" of the sponsored charity event, but I'm acutely aware that this is the period when many of those participating in the sponsored sobriety might decide that "one little drink won't hurt" and thus undermine any achievement they hoped to gain. Nobody really cares whether you cheated or not. As is often said: the only person you're cheating is yourself.

So, although by conventional linear milestone measurement, I'm easily way past halfway, I prefer to think pessimistically: I'm nowhere near the end yet. I find it easier that way, and I find that I am more likely to achieve success.

There will be more steps. Six more, to be precise, but do not assume that all steps are equal, and remember that you might have to repeat steps - progress is non-linear.

 

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Step Four: Compensate

6 min read

This is a story about harm reduction...

Supplements

I've been sober for 33 consecutive days now. It's not a particularly important number that demonstrates anything of much interest, but I thought I should remind readers of how I'm getting along without alcohol. The plan, which I will easily achieve, is to be teetotal until at least the end of October, under the guise of the "Go Sober for October" sponsored charity event, if anybody asks.

The truth about my sobriety is much more straightforward: alcohol was a source of a great many calories, which were causing me to gain weight, and my liver needed a break from the constant onslaught. My decision to take a break from drinking was motivated by vanity and sensible health considerations, not more interesting and lurid reasons such as a so-called "battle with the demon drink" which I find patently absurd, as a person who's been lucky enough not to be cursed with the misfortune of not being able to control their drinking.

We should, of course, spare a moment for all the alcoholics in the world who are somewhat powerless in the face of their addiction to ethanol. We should be sympathetic and understanding towards those who genuinely have very limited control over their so-called 'free will' to choose between drinking and not drinking. Alcoholics, by definition, have had their decision-making powers almost 100% impaired by the addictive qualities of alcohol, and as such, they would not be able to choose to take a lengthy break from drinking at will.

For those wishing to quit or reduce their drinking, I was in the process of writing my own version of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) Twelve Steps. I find abstinence-based so-called 'treatment' of addiction to be a barbaric ritual with very strong evidence to show that not only is it ineffectual, but it's actively unhelpful, unkind and needlessly unpleasant. AA is a cult, with its rituals and other cult qualities, such as the vicious ostricisation of any member who strays too far from the pack, or dares to question its efficacy. While I applaud and and am glad for those who credit AA with their sobriety, I would also remind you that many people credit their good fortune to some form of sky monster (i.e. god or whatever) - human beings are superstitious idiots, and I urge everyone to seek evidence-based treatments, not cult mumbo-jumbo.

So, what is my solution for those who drink too much?

Simple answer: compensation.

We wouldn't say to a person who complains that their diet is too bland, consisting only of gruel and dry bread, that they should instead go without food altogether, would we? The abstinence approach is not only cruel and unkind, it also creates unnecessary and intolerable suffering, which is why so few people are able to use abstinence-based approaches to achieving their goals.

Whether it's dieting to lose weight, quitting gambling, quitting drugs, quitting alcohol, or indeed altering any of our behaviours which are causing us problems, the most important thing to consider is how we are going to compensate for the thing we are giving up or reducing. Without compensation, change is impossible; only suffering will ensue.

When I quit drinking for 121 consecutive days in 2015, I compensated with dietary supplements and other health-conscious changes, which included cutting out gluten and dairy from my diet. In retrospect, that was a really dumb decision. While there was a high placebo value in the changes that I made, there was no other value. I might as well have banged a gong and worshipped a made-up monkey god, asking him to cleanse me of the demon drink - it would have had the same effect. I am neither gluten nor dairy intolerant, so all I did was waste a bunch of money on expensive food products.

This time, I have compensated by using sleeping pills and tranquillisers which mimic the positive effects of alcohol, without the negative ones. I don't get hangovers. I don't have weight gain. I don't have liver damage. However, my anxiety is reduced, my insomnia is cured and my sleep quality is improved. What's not to like?

Of course, I have swapped a nightly glass or two of wine for a tablet or two, which some might see as 'failure' but those people are idiots. I've lost weight, my kidney has had the opportunity to repair itself, plus I have avoided endless amounts of hangxiety and hangovers. Also, the tablets are a damnsight cheaper than alcohol, costing me no more than a couple of pounds every day, which is a fraction of the cost of the alcohol required to achieve the same reduction in anxiety and ability to fall asleep.

We shouldn't underestimate the danger of addictive medications, and I've certainly put off today's problems until tomorrow by using tablets to allow me to achieve a period of sobriety, but I really don't give a shit - I've lost weight and my life has been manageable; my health has improved. I see no downsides. It will be a bit of a bumpy ride when I quit the tablets again, but I have only taken them sporadically during recent weeks, so quitting will be easy enough - I will gently taper the dosage and then I will be free from all mind-altering substances, once again.

I'm one of the most substance-free people you're ever likely to meet. I don't drink (at the moment), don't smoke and I don't drink caffeinated beverages. I'm highly unusual in this regard: you and almost everybody you know, indulges in some kind of mind-altering substance use, even if it's just tea or coffee.

If my life had permitted it, of course I would have been climbing mountains or surfing, or doing some other wholesome outdoor activity, but I've had to work really really hard the past few months, and it's entirely unrealistic to imagine that I would be out in the wilderness charging around like a healthy happy person, when I'm actually incredibly stressed, depressed and anxious, under enormous pressure to deliver a very large complicated project, for a tight deadline. It's a fucking miracle that I'm as healthy as I am, given the pressure I'm under, and the demands placed upon me.

So, shove your yoga, jogging and kale smoothies up your arse. Do whatever it takes to compensate, if you need to stop a particularly unhealthy habit - find something that's less harmful. Harm reduction is better than trying and failing to achieve the impossible. Abstinence is torture and should never be inflicted upon anybody, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever.

Steps Five through Twelve might be a bit rushed, given that there are only 9 days between now and October 31, but I will finish this series, because I think it's important that people who are suffering are given realistic and evidence-based humane alternatives, which will allow them to achieve a better life... not be expected to suffer torture and be doomed to failure, because some twat of a moralising idiot tells them that the only way to get better is through abstinence. Fuck those guys. Do what works.

 

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Step One: Don't Buy Any Alcohol

4 min read

This is a story about non-linear progress...

The Bridge

Don't worry. I didn't buy or drink any alcohol. I just thought that step one should be repeated, because it's an important one. Why not make it step 3 and have 13 steps? Well, I thought it would be more like reality to have to repeat steps. In real life, we never follow steps one after the other - we have to go back and re-do things. It's snakes and ladders, although without the comforting knowledge that eventually you'll reach the finish, providing you keep rolling the dice.

Today has been surprisingly hard. Today I was supposed to feel the benefit of not drinking, but I didn't. I have been tormented by poor concentration span and anxiety today, which is an awful combination. I thought I was going to have to skip work because I wasn't feeling very well. I thought I was going to have to go home early, because I was feeling exhausted. I'm glad the working day is over.

I started thinking about how long it takes to feel like progress is being made. How long does it really take before a good lifestyle and health decision delivers any noticeable benefit?

A long time.

Sometimes I do a good job of setting my expectations, and sometimes I'm over-optimistic. Thinking back to when I was swallowing copious amounts of sleeping pills and tranquillisers, and I had a foreign holiday impending, it seemed impossible that I'd be able to quit all those addictive medications in order to be able to travel abroad. I must have suffered a great deal, but also I know that I dealt with that problem very quickly and I managed to get free from those addictive pills, and to enjoy my holiday free from medication. As well as quitting those medications I also quit alcohol, went on a diet and lost some weight.

How on earth did I achieve all that?

At the moment, I'm managing to stay off alcohol, but I'm not managing much else. Sure, I'm still medication-free, but I'm comfort eating like crazy, by way of compensation. I know that I'm only a few days into my current mission to improve my health and appearance, but I feel like somehow I should be feeling a lot better.

I suppose for every 10 days of bad choices, it's gonna take 5 days of living a healthy life to pay back that debt. I had gotten into some super bad habits in the last month, so it's bound to take at least a fortnight before I feel any benefit, I imagine.

My perceptions are all messed up. I'm tormented by thoughts of doom and disaster, particularly around my reputation at work - having screwed up and said something dumb and unprofessional - and my prospect of getting a contract extension or another local gig. I've started to feel overwhelmed: that the stress of it is too much to bear, and that I won't be lucky... my hard-won gains will all be eaten up but the relentless demands of rent, bills and other expenses, until I'm plunged back into homelessness and financial ruin.

I am aware that I've swung from feeling like I've been making a valuable contribution, that I'm good at my job, and feeling OK about things (have I ever really felt that though?) to now feeling that I've undone all my hard work, and that everything's doomed to fail after the end of October, when my current contract ends. I had been thinking that I would be able to persuade the organisation I'm currently working for to take me on directly, and I would buy my way out of a contract clause which prohibits me from working for the organisation. I had been thinking that I had a sensible and straightforward way ahead, but now I'm thinking that everything is ruined: the organisation doesn't want me anymore, my reputation is ruined, nobody will want me, and I'll soon run out of money and end up homeless and penniless again.

To have such an extreme swing of mood and perception must be due to a combination of alcohol and bipolar disorder.

I'm aware of this, but I still feel these feelings so strongly, that it's hard to be rational.

Anyway, I'm going to carry on with sobriety, because I know it's good for my health and my waistline.

 

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Step Two: Nightmares

2 min read

This is a story about the beer fear...

Bed construction

I've written about the beer fear before. The beer fear is the spike in anxiety associated with quitting drinking, which peaks after a 2 or 3 days. The beer fear is one of the hard parts, because alcohol is perfect to take the edge off the nerves and restore a sense of wellbeing, when the anxiety is kinda unbearable. The beer fear is a known difficult period which always occurs after quitting heavy drinking.

The anxiety is strange at the moment. It's enough to make me distracted and feel like I'm doing a bad job at work, that I'm screwing up, despite a mountain of evidence that I'm working hard and doing valuable stuff. The anxiety is enough to penetrate my dreams: the past two nights I've had terrible nightmares.

I'm particularly tormented - still - by the screwup I made on Thursday, putting a message in the wrong chat, which was super unprofessional.

As I predicted, I'm feeling a lot worse before I feel better. I got through Friday night, which was difficult as I wanted to reward myself for getting through the working week. I'm quite programmed to "get that Friday feeling" so I had to fight the urge to drink. See step one: I didn't have any alcohol in the house, which made it easier.

As also predicted, I'm hungry all the time. I'm probably comfort eating because I'm tired and anxious, and overcompensating for the sudden lack of alcohol. I'm allowing myself to eat pretty much whatever I want, because I can't do everything all at once, but my diet has vastly improved versus when I was drinking heavily. I won't be losing any weight, yet, because I'm focussed on getting through this difficult period where I feel terrible before I start feeling better. Then, I can think about improving my diet as well as not drinking.

I'm hoping that by Monday, I'll be feeling the benefits of being alcohol-free, a little bit.

 

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Step One: Don't Buy Any Alcohol

4 min read

This is a story about losing weight...

Big Mac

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

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

Alcohol is the obvious source of weight gain.

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

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

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

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

So.

No more drinking.

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

I feel fine about that.

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

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

So, the time to act is now.

Need to quit drinking.

Done.

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

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

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

 

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