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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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Dumbest Guy in the Room

4 min read

This is a story about being opinionated...

Boardroom

I cannot shut up. I will not shut up. I could not shut up, even if I wanted to. Sometimes I do want to shut up, although my colleagues would probably snort with laughter at such a notion. In fact, sometimes I can force myself to shut up, a little bit, but it doesn't last very long.

The problem is, that thoughts pop into my head - relevant, useful thoughts - which then spew out of my mouth, after only a moment of hesitation to see if anybody else is going to say anything. To say that I engage my mouth before my brain is quite untrue. In fact, my brain is very thoroughly engaged, meaning that I seem to have ample time to process everything that's being said, think of something relevant and useful, to deliberately hesitate to think about who else might have something they want or need to say, and also to simply give other people a chance to make a contribution... then having completed that process, I speak.

The way that people act in large organisations is weird. Whenever there's a large meeting, like a town hall, whenever somebody asks "any questions?" there's an unwritten rule that nobody is supposed to ask any questions. I follow that rule, because otherwise I'd be hated by my colleagues. I mean, more hated than I am already for being so outspoken.

I've started to get really bored of the sound of my own voice. I very much dislike hearing myself so much. I worry a great deal about how much I talk, versus most of my other colleagues.

I'm the dumb guy in the room. I'm the guy who doesn't seem to realise that we all get paid anyway, whether I make a contribution or not; that we all get paid anyway, whether I'm paying attention or not; that we all get paid anyway... so why bother? The smart guys in the room know that it's best to zone out, switch off, not contribute, keep schtum, and just hope that it somehow makes the working day pass a little more quickly.

It doesn't.

If you go to lots and lots of interminable boring meetings, for sure you don't want to prolong them for any longer than they absolutely must do. For sure, there are good reasons for hating the desperately ambitious people, who ask questions for the sake of making an impression with the more senior members of staff in the organisation, when everybody in the room really wants to go to lunch or go home. For sure, it's idiotic to waste so many people's time, showing off to a roomful of colleagues.

But.

I'm able to get out of bed in the morning because I care about the project I'm working on. When I don't care, the depression is so bad that I can't get up; I can't face it; I can't face the boredom.

I don't know how people do it. How do people, for years and years, turn up at an office for 40+ hours a week, just to make up the numbers; just to be zoned out and not interested in making a contribution?

For sure, there's a difference in how assertive people are. For sure, I'm at the extreme end of assertive, bordering on downright aggressive: I will be heard. For sure, I must be drowning others, more hesitant than I, out of the conversation; out of the discussion.

It's a dumb move. Work is, primarily, a popularity contest. Promotions are based on how much a person is liked by their superiors, not on merit, qualifications, experience, hard work, grit, determination, attitude, or any of the other bullshit which we're told is what promotions are based on. No. Sorry. Wrong. It's all based on popularity. If you want to get promoted, you must be popular with those who are making the promotion decision. It's that simple. No exceptions.

Mercifully, I don't want to be promoted. I'm already director of my own company. I can't be promoted: I'm already the top dog; the main man; the head honcho.

Mercifully, I don't have to play the corporate game. I can just get on with my job, as a professional, which means being as productive and useful as possible, to ensure a successful project outcome.

Sure, I'd like to be popular as well, but I find it's hard to be effective, productive and be popular: the two are often mutually exclusive.

I definitely don't want to be an asshole though. That would suck.

 

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Overdue Holiday

4 min read

This is a story about stamina...

Me

It's been over 13 months since I had a holiday. My holiday plans for last year got really screwed up. I need to have a couple of winter holidays, for mental health reasons - Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) exacerbates my bipolar, and can make me suicidally depressed, as was proven last Christmas. I ended up spending Christmas and New Year in a hospital bed, instead of on a beach, because that's what happens.

Of course I can technically keep working for years, without a holiday. The problem is, I get tired and irritable, which damages my relationship with my colleagues. Nobody wants to work with somebody who's tired and irritable.

The past 13+ months haven't just been a continuous slog at work, without a holiday. The past 13+ months have included an enormous amount of work on a very high-profile project of national importance. There's a lot of pressure. Sure, I thrive on pressure, but not everybody's going to be a fan of my style, when I'm tired and stressed, which is to not suffer any fools gladly; I can be extremely impatient and intolerant of fuckwits.

Of course, if I get the chance to keep working on the project I've been involved with for a long time, then I'm going to have to look after myself. I'm going to have to take some holidays. My health - mental and physical - demands that I take some holidays.

In a lot of ways, it's great for colleagues to have the consistency of me being around, all the time. In other ways, it's bad for me to be around all the time. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and familiarity breeds contempt etc.

One of the bosses who I admired the most, even if I didn't particularly like him, was notoriously short-tempered and impatient. He was extremely quick-witted and blazingly quick at everything he did. I always swore I would never ape his demeanour, because it wasn't very pleasant for colleagues, but when I came to building and running my first startup, I admit that I had a very sharp tongue; I reduced my co-founder to tears.

The boss who I attempt to copy, is a guy who was a 'shit umbrella' for the team: he fended off all the pressure, and kept the workload and general demands at a reasonable level, so that the engineering team could work without unhelpful and annoying people hanging around saying "is it done yet?" constantly. He used to give estimates which were extremely conservative - being over-optimistic, over-promising, will always lead to stress, pressure, being rushed, and ultimately a poor quality, late and disappointing outcome. My ex-boss created a great environment to work in, and I'll never forget that.

As discussed at length, I'm desperate to achieve financial security, and as such there's a great temptation to never take any holiday, when I suffer a double-whammy financial blow when I take a holiday: the loss of earnings AND the cost of the holiday. Of course, it's a false economy if I end up getting sick or losing my job, because I've overworked myself, but I've always taken things to the extreme.

I have no idea how or when I'm going to take a holiday, especially in the context of a second-wave of Coronavirus and the subsequent second lockdown. Already, the UK has more new cases than the UK's own threshold for quarantining visitors from another country. I feel pretty certain that I would end up spending my entire holiday in the hotel room, under quarantine. Another consideration is that I'm now single, and as such, would be holidaying alone, which I would hate.

I do need to take a holiday, and I will always find a way to achieve something if I set my mind to it, but there are many reasons not to take a holiday - money, coronavirus - and the prospect of being abroad, alone, is not enthusing me to the idea.

 

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Sobriety Cost Me My Job

4 min read

This is a story about stability...

Coke bottles

In 2015, a bet with a friend, that I could stop drinking for 100 consecutive days, cost me my job. The story is a little bit more complicated than the simple summary I've given, but that's about the long and the short of it.

The brain has a tendency to rebound. That is to say, if you've been very calm, then your brain will rebound and make you anxious. If you've been very happy, then your brain will rebound and make you depressed. Well, mine does anyway.

Mind-altering substances can be destabilising - for me - but they can also be stabilising. For many productive years, I used a combination of stimulants and CNS depressants - caffeine and alcohol - to manage my mood. If I was going too high, I would drink booze to tamp things down, and if I was going too low, I could drink coffee to pep me up. It was a crude system, but it worked.

In terms of how my colleagues perceive me, they like me best when I'm hungover, because I'm quiet and I'm not argumentative. They like me least when I'm hopped up on caffeine, because I'm overly garrulous and quarrelsome. However, I've managed to get through decades of a very successful career in this manner, without any issue.

The issues have come when I've stopped using things like alcohol and caffeine to regulate my mood.

Stopping caffeine was beneficial. I sleep better and I'm more productive; more creative. Sure, if I needed to do a lot of very repetitive easy work, caffeine would help me concentrate, but most of the work I do is very difficult, requiring a lot of flexible thinking - caffeine is not the right tool for the job.

Stopping alcohol has been massively detrimental. I swing between periods of paralysis, where anxiety stops me from doing anything, and periods of irritability. If I'm hung over, I'm happy to coast along and keep quiet. With a clear head I often have little patience, when I'm particularly tired and stressed. Stopping alcohol makes me massively tired, because I don't sleep well.

Once the first couple of sober weeks have passed, I start to have too much energy, very much like when I've had too much coffee. My thoughts race and I'm irritated by dimwits who test my patience to the limit. I struggle with the glacial pace of large organisations, more than ever, when my brain is functioning particularly well, free from hangover or otherwise dulled by alcohol abuse.

It's hugely advantageous, if one must work with dimwits, to chemically lobotomise yourself using alcohol. It's too painful to drag dimwits along, or be held back all the time; it's too frustrating; too time-wasting. Without alcohol, the sheer incompetence and lack of productivity of most of the brainless idiots who bimble along in the corporate world, is unbearable.

Of course I'm somewhat plagued by an underlying mood disorder which predisposes me towards delusions of grandeur and irritability with dimwits, but alcohol really helps. Alcohol has helped me in my career for decades. Without alcohol, I would have gone of and done something interesting but far less lucrative, years ago. I'm extremely well paid, because I'm bribed to work with dimwits. I'm extremely well paid because it's excruciatingly boring waiting for the penny to drop in the hamster-wheel that serves as a brain in some of the dimwits that I work with.

In all honesty, I don't work with many dimwits. I do like my colleagues. There are just one or two who really try my patience and I have so little patience, now that I'm sober.

Sobriety sucks. Sobriety conflicts with my career; my employability; my likability. I need to take a break from drinking though, for the sake of my physical health. I'm about halfway though my month of sobriety, which I'm taking to give my body a break from the damaging onslaught of alcohol.

Hopefully I'll push through this difficult period and become a bit less irritable at work. Hopefully I won't lose my job, again.

 

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All You Have to do is Nothing

4 min read

This is a story about boredom...

Watch

What if I offered you a six-figure salary to do nothing? Would you take it? Of course you'd take it, right? Think of all the great stuff you could buy with a six-figure income. Think of what a great house and car you could buy. Think of all the holidays you could have. Think of all the lovely things that money would buy.

Wrong.

Firstly, going on holiday is not "doing nothing". If you're on holiday, you won't be earning your six-figure salary: you're only paid for the time you're doing nothing.

Fine, you say.

But.

You're going to have to spend some time doing nothing, in order to get your hands on the money. How much time do you think you could spend doing nothing in any given year? Assuming that you spend about 5 weeks each year on holiday, that means you'll have to spend 47 weeks doing nothing. That's achievable, right?

Wrong.

It's a lot harder doing nothing than doing something. You might not realise this - because you've never had to do nothing - but it's the hardest thing in the world. Perhaps if you work as a security guard or a solidier, you might be able to legitimately claim that you've got first-hand experience of doing nothing, but that's not true. It's well known that doing nothing is impossible, so security guards and soldiers get paired up or given 'lone worker' tasks to do, in order to break the monotony of the task.

In fact, every time you were bored, you just walked out of that job and went and got another one; every time your situation was uncomfortable, you changed it. Your entire life consists of chatting to people, making cups of tea/coffee and undertaking a variety of tasks. You never do nothing.

Doing nothing pays the most money.

Boredom is directly proportional to remuneration; the more boring a job is, the more you get paid (with the exception of being a security guard, perhaps). Maybe it's like a 'U' shape actually - there are really badly paid jobs which are boring, and the best paid jobs which are boring, and the jobs in the middle are the interesting ones.

The best thing I can do at the moment is nothing. The more I keep quiet and keep my head down, the better. Far better if I avoid trouble and don't do anything - do nothing - to earn loads of money.

It's unbearable.

Most people are led by impulse and instinct, but I have to fight my gut every step of the way. If I did what 'felt' right then I would quit what I'm doing and just figure things out - anything's better than being trapped doing nothing, bored. Of course, I would miss the 'easy' money, so I keep going, because my head says it's the right thing to do. I know that the suffering will yield vast financial compensation, even if the means of achieving it are intolerable.

I suppose you think that it's a nice problem to have but you'd be mistaken. We can all prostitute ourselves, or otherwise do work which is toxic to our dignity, sense of wellbeing, sense of achievement, mental health etc. Of course, some sex workers are happy doing what they're doing, so use your imagination: you could earn a lot of money doing crime if you wanted to.

If you think what I'm writing is entitled and whingey, fuck off. If you're thinking "we all have to suffer a little boredom occasionally" then you're right... "occasionally". When it becomes your full-time job to be bored out of your mind, then it goes beyond 'normal' and moves into the territory of an extreme health hazard; a threat to life.

Of course I can see the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but I can also see the broken glass and razor blades I have to crawl over to get there. Sure, I probably will get there in the end, but I'm going to whine and complain the whole way, because it's a ridiculous waste of time, energy and talent, to have a person tormented - in agony - with insufferable boredom.

 

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Insane in the Office

4 min read

This is a story about vacation...

Pixelated

It's been pretty much four whole months since I saw my colleagues face-to-face in the office. As the lockdown wore on, my hair got longer and longer. Working from home, I've tended to wear scruffy clothes instead of wearing a smart shirt. These things make a big difference.

Business attire is important. There are plenty of useless idiots in the working world, commanding high salaries simply because they wear a nice suit. Wearing the right clothes is an effective way of getting people to respect you and to value you, and your opinion. Without the visual cues of the business attire, people can only judge you based on what you say and what you do, which they are hopelessly under-qualified to do.

Being face-to-face is important. So much of nonverbal communication - such as reading a room, or looking for body language - is useful to know if you're rubbing somebody up the wrong way, and therefore to know whether to back off; to let something drop.

In the office, a vast amount of the working day can be eaten up by simply moving around the building - looking for meeting rooms, walking to the toilet, walking to get a sandwich, walking to get a drink - plus there's a lot of opportunity for ad-hoc chats with colleagues. At home, I'm alone with my thoughts for most of the day. I'm incredibly bored. When we have a meeting I'm desperate to talk to somebody; so isolated and lonely.

At the office, if I'm acting a bit strangely, somebody can have a quiet word in my ear. "Is everything OK?" they can ask, kindly. At home, nobody really checks in on me; there's no human connection.

I'm so bored.

I get through all my work so quickly, because there isn't enough to do, and I'm alone with no distractions.

The autumn, winter and spring are going to be incredibly hectic, stressful and high-pressure, so I'm keen that the workload should be managed effectively; expectations have to be set appropriately. I find myself being very forceful, trying to protect myself and my colleagues from being overwhelmed; overstretched. I push back hard on the insidious scope creep; the relentless push to overpromise and underdeliver; an army of soft-skilled fuckwits saying yes to everything because they're yes-men; people-pleasers who don't actually have to do the work themselves - it won't be them who have to work late into the night and over weekends in order to deliver the undeliverable. Nobody thanks you when your project is late, you don't deliver everything you said you would, and the quality is atrocious.

I should stop caring.

Not my circus, not my monkeys.

I should just take the money and keep my big mouth shut.

It doesn't make sense to rock the boat. I should be diplomatic. I should smile and take the money, and ignore the problems; ignore the disaster that's brewing. I know it'd be better for my bank balance to just keep my mouth shut.

It's difficult. My mental health is not compatible with office jobs working for huge organisations, but it's easy money. It's a LOT of easy money. Hard to turn down that kind of money, even if it's toxic to my mental health.

I haven't taken any time off since the start of the year. I have been working as hard as I possibly can. I just want this atrocious period - of financial insecurity - to be over.

When you're going through hell, keep going... and go as fast as you can!

I opt for ripping off the sticky plaster as quickly as possible; a short sharp shock.

Except this isn't short and sharp... it's prolonged.

Interminable.

I'm not sure what I'd do with time off anyway. UK citizens are not exactly welcome in a lot of places, given that our nation is riddled with deadly disease. I hate travelling alone.

I do need some time off though, before I have a breakdown; before I get too sick to work. It's strange, my mental health is very bad, but I'm still very productive. I assume that I'm very difficult to work with at the moment though, but I don't really know, because I don't get any feedback; I don't have normal interactions with anybody. I'm completely isolated and losing my mind.

 

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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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Sick Of The Sound Of My Voice

5 min read

This is a story about verbal diarrhoea...

Boardroom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Give a Job to a Busy Person

6 min read

This is a story about workload...

Gas Meter

The original idiom - which I have adapted to make it more inclusive - says that if you want a job doing, you should give it to a busy man. I notice that this is fairly true, from my anecdotal observations: the busier I am, the easier it is for me to deal with extra work being given to me.

One year ago I had the intolerable task of sitting quietly trying not to get noticed, and trying to keep my mouth shut. I knew that the very best thing I could do for my career and my bank balance, was not to rock the boat; not to attempt to say or do anything useful. The best thing I could do was act as a very expensive seat warmer. I was paid for being present, not for being useful or productive.

One year ago, seemingly minor things made me exceedingly anxious. If I had to get my car tested for roadworthiness, have a haircut, deal with the gas company, or any one of a million ordinary everyday tasks, I would find it unbelievably stressful, and I struggled to cope.

I have started to work 100+ hours a week again. To say that I'm busy would be a massive understatement. I am hyper-productive for the maximum amount of hours which human physiology allows for, without sleep deprivation causing me to have a psychotic episode. Unable to sleep, it's quite usual for me to open my laptop and start working in the middle of the night. I wake up well before my alarm clock. I am running in overdrive mode at the moment, also more commonly known as a manic episode.

Of course, with mania, I get very impatient and irritable about things which are not on the critical path. For example, I was asked to update a spreadsheet which detailed the activities I've been doing during the past couple of weeks, and how long I spent on each activity. To me, this is the most ridiculous waste of my time, given that 100% of my time has been spent on productive activities for one single organisation, so I really don't give a toss about how it's sliced and diced - all my valuable time has gone to benefit the organisation who wants me to waste time on an unproductive exercise, which leaves me less time to do productive activities. It's idiotic to get your highly paid staff to spend their time doing activities which are not valuable, when instead they could be doing something useful.

The argument would be that timesheets and suchlike are the way that we calculate how much to pay people, but this is demonstrably absurd. If the number of hours worked had any kind of relationship with the value delivered, then I would agree that it's important for us to record or time worked on task accurately, but there IS NO relationship between remuneration and hours worked. If I work the same number of hours as some of my colleagues, I am paid 5 or 6 times as much. Am I 5 or 6 times more productive and valuable? Sometimes I am less valuable, sometimes I am more valuable, and sometimes - although it's exceptionally rare - my remuneration tallies with the value that I'm delivering.

One of my colleagues said to me "you've got too much time on your hands" when he saw something I'd been doing, which he thought was a waste of time. Later, that piece of work I'd done turned out to be one of the most valuable things that anybody in the team ever produced - something that benefits every member of the team every single day, and perhaps many many other members of other teams, and indeed the whole organisation.

Value and productivity are very hard to measure. "Bums on seats" culture is dreadful. The number of hours that staff spend at their place of work has no bearing on how productive and valuable they are.

In the teams I get involved with, I try to instill a culture of "think it... do it". I want people to implement any innovative ideas the moment they have them. If the ideas turn out to be duds, so what? It only takes one or two great ideas that really pay off, to more than outweigh the small amount of wasted time doing things which had little value. So much time is wasted talking about priorities, and the pros and cons of doing something, and agonising over whether it could or should be done. The culture I bring to teams and organisations is one where everybody's encouraged to build stuff, even if it gets thrown away; even if it's silly!

It's much better for people to be productive and have their brains being kept busy, than looking busy. It's so much better for people's sense of job satisfaction, sense of purpose, sense of pride, sense of ownership, and a multitude of other great qualities that we want from the people in our teams and organisations.

There's no obvious value in the text-based adventure game which I hid inside one of our systems, as an easter egg, but the value is in the cultural tone that it sets: it's OK to build stuff; don't be afraid; don't be so serious... this is supposed to be fun and intellectually challenging.

As it turned out, now we have several tools which imitate the game I built, which perform useful functions for the organisation. Instead of attempting to "win" a "game", the objective is to find and fix problems, using the available clues, which is pretty much what every IT professional does for a day job, but it's a lot better if there's a half-decent interface to help with that task. Computer games are always brilliant at having the learning curve set to make them accessible, and they take advantage of the best available features: if all you have is a computer terminal that can print text and accept typed commands, then you can still create a brilliant game, even without fancy 3D graphics and sound.

I'm busy as hell, and you might say that the 2 hours I spent writing an adventure game were wasted, but in fact it was time well spent. The 5 minutes I spent battling with a spreadsheet where I had to record the hours I spent working on things, was a total waste of time and quite corrosive to the great working culture I'm trying so hard to create.

 

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Harsh

5 min read

This is a story about being horrible to people...

Hand wash

One of my bosses, from 18 years ago, has been a source of inspiration. He is - or at least he was when I knew him - one of the bluntest, rudest and most intimidating people you'd ever be likely to meet. I have never aspired to be rude, mean or to treat people badly, but I don't suffer fools gladly and I get rather impatient and intolerant of the hard-of-thinking.

It struck me that I had written quite a lot that could be misconstrued as harshly critical of my colleagues. I wanted to address that.

Firstly, I do suffer from bouts of delusions of grandeur, as a result of my bipolar disorder. I can quite often, during episodes of mania, decide that I'm a virtuoso; a genius. There's little to burst my bubble, in terms of evidence, in that I can easily point to multiple great achievements throughout my career, and I haven't yet been defeated by a technology challenge. This means I'm good but not necessarily great. I have no idea what the distinction is, but my brain tells me that I'm great when I'm in one of those moods. In fact, my brain tells me I'm the best and in the absence of another person who makes me feel inferior, it's hard to deflate my ego and get my rampaging delusions of grandeur under control. I'm sure that I'm not the smartest person in the room but without concrete evidence to the contrary, I can get carried away.

It sounds like I'm making excuses; blaming my mental illness. Well, I do try to stay humble and keep some perspective. I do try to stop my head from swelling too much; stop my ego from getting out of control.

Secondly, I'm under a lot of pressure. Work is not just a job to me - it's an opportunity to prove that I'm not a no-good waste-of-space washed-up has-been useless junkie alcoholic homeless bankrupt mentally ill enemy of society. If I can prove beyond all reasonable doubt that I can make a substantial, exceptional contribution to a major project, then I will have a massive achievement to point to as proof that I have some worth, which will help my self-esteem enormously.

Thirdly, I'm equally capable of being a "dull-eyed dim-witted brain-dead zoned-out zombie trudging along with the herd". I'm equally capable of becoming demotivated and just turning up for the paycheque. I'm equally capable of doing a half-assed job. I'm totally capable of being very unproductive. I can spend forever procrastinating; not producing anything useful. When I make disparaging remarks, I'm not criticising individuals - I'm criticising the dreadful effect that working in a big organisation has on people, in terms of robbing them of any opportunity to learn, develop and get passionately involved in a project where they feel like they can make a difference.

I do see incompetence, which annoys me, but the people who I am angry with are the highly paid consultants who claim to be experts, but are clearly a waste of money. It annoys me that I work with brilliant graduates and rubbish consultants, when the graduates are so underpaid, which is unfair. It annoys me that I have to waste my time cleaning up mess made by people who should be the best of the best. It annoys me that I have to do extra work, because of a highly paid consultant's incompetence, when the organisation and the team really would be much better off without them.

When my brain gets accelerated up to top speed, I can be incredibly productive, but I can also be incredibly mean. I start to believe that I can do everything myself and that everybody else is just an annoyance; a hinderance. That's wrong. That's a symptom of my illness. I do need my team. I do need other people. I am glad to have my colleagues... well, most of them anyway.

I can say all sorts of stupid regrettable things when I'm suffering an episode of mania. I can be really mean and harsh when I'm in full swing. I really hope that nobody's suffering too badly when they feel the sharp end of my tongue. I really hope none of my colleagues are reading this and thinking that I believe they're useless idiots, because the truth is that I think almost all my colleagues (with the exception of one or two aforementioned overpaid consultants) are brilliant people who I'm really lucky to work with.

I know that it doesn't matter how much of a brilliant engineer you are, if you can't get along with people then your skills are useless. People with amazing technology skills are plentiful, but the valuable ones are the people who place nice with others. I know I struggle at times, and I really hope I haven't done too much damage and that my colleagues can forgive me.

 

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I Will Work Harder

6 min read

This is a story about overwork...

Pound notes

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

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

I'm a bit weird.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really need to take a holiday.

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

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

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

I need to keep going.

I need to keep working as hard as ever.

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

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

 

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