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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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Ticks in Boxes

3 min read

This is a story about form filling...

Vote

So my project is delivered and the giant form-filling SurveyMonkey exercise has begun. Today was supposed to be exciting, but it wasn't. It was boring. If I do a good job, then this part of the project is boring. If I do a good job then everything's supposed to work and run smoothly. I expect there will be problems, but at the moment there aren't any, mainly because nobody's doing the damn survey.

It's a little anti-climactic. I got up super early this morning, hoping to see the first users using the system, but there've barely been more than a handful of people who've stumbled upon the system. It won't be until tomorrow or the day after that people are notified that they have to do something, and their survey results will start flooding in. After so many months of hard work, it's a little hard to sit and watch a flat-line graph, showing virtually zero activity, the whole day. What a disappointment. At least things are working though, so far as we can tell.

I can't go into too much detail, because I'm bound by codes of conduct, privacy & confidentiality contractual clauses, and indeed other rather scary-sounding laws which restrict me from spilling the beans, but the good old general public are about to be asked to do a cool SurveyMonkey, and this is jolly exciting... except it isn't because nobody's doing it yet.

I'm exhausted.

It's been a long old slog to get to this point.

With so much nervous anticipation, it's hard to maintain the same level of energy and enthusiasm when nothing is happening. I found myself nodding off at my desk so I had to come home early. I'll try to get an early night and lots of sleep, in the hope that tomorrow is a more exciting day, providing some adrenalin to carry me through an otherwise pretty anti-climactic period.

It's supposed to go smoothly. It's supposed to go well. There aren't supposed to be any problems.

But.

Having worked so hard for so long, to meet a very tight deadline, I really don't quite know how to re-adjust to life without that pressure; without that goal and sense of purpose. It's difficult changing mindset, from push, push, push, to now wondering what fire is going to break out that will need to be put out; what crisis is going to emerge?

Still very obsessed with work and project, but the waiting is now mostly over, and we'll soon know whether some bold decisions I made have paid off, or whether they'll cause terrible problems and turn out to be disastrous.

 

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Unprofessional

3 min read

This is a story about trash talking...

Post-it note

I have spent a whole bunch of evenings talking with a colleague. We have talked for hours. I suppose I have become somewhat habituated into gossipping with this buddy of mine. Regularly throughout the day, if there's anything which would be unprofessional to talk about with my regular colleagues, I can chat to this other colleague, because they read my blog and we talk like friends; I trust them, that my mad rantings and ravings will go no further - it's a safe space.

Then, I wrote something in the wrong chat. Instead of my message going to my colleague, it went to my entire team, plus some others too. What I wrote was deeply dubious, even by my usual standards, in that I named somebody specifically by name. What I wrote was really unprofessional.

I deleted the message, but people saw it.

It wasn't there for long but everyone saw it.

I'm mortified.

It's my own stupid fault for breaking my golden rule of not naming any names. It's my own stupid fault for breaking my rule of wearing the corporate mask the whole time; never letting down my guard. I let down my guard and I let it down badly - I shot from the hip, and I said something really dumb.

I'm now catastrophising. I'm assuming that all my hard work is undone. I'm assuming that I'm hated now, by some very influential people at work. I've acted super unprofessional, and it won't be forgotten.

Ugh.

I was doing so well.

Except I wasn't.

I was aware that my ego was becoming quite unwieldy. I was giving myself far too much credit. I was starting to believe my own bullshit. I was starting to really think that I was hot stuff; a big deal. That's a sign of sickness - a clear indicator that I'm in the grip of mania. Why wouldn't I be manic? How else could I cope with the pressure of the deadlines; the stress of the project? The heavy drinking was another bad sign - evidence that I was self-medicating heavily to try and control my mood.

I feel stuck in a terrible pattern. Yet again, I feel sure that I'm the architect of my own destruction; that I'm undermining all the hard work... that I'll be left with my reputation in tatters.

I'm catastrophising.

Having abruptly stopped drinking, I'm bound to be feeling anxious about everything, but I'm convinced I've committed an unforgivable cardinal sin and my name is mud now, at the office.

 

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Functional Alcoholic

5 min read

This is a story about demon drink...

Bucket

I have placed a ludicrous amount of pressure on myself, having decided that I'm going to create a great reputation for myself by being a major player in a massive important project, for a big organisation. I've been attempting to be all things to all men, and be in all places at one time. I have been attempting to be manyfold times more productive than anybody else, in order to demonstrate beyond all reasonable doubt that I've been a major contributor and driving force behind the success of the project. I've staked my name and reputation on a successful delivery.

How do I sleep at night?

Vodka.

I bought a bottle of vodka on Monday and now it's all gone. I never drink spirits. Except I have done this week. A whole bottle.

I know this is a bad sign.

This is how alcoholism starts.

Alcohol is a terrible coping mechanism. I was very drunk last night, except somehow I wasn't. I carried on drinking even though I wasn't getting any more drunk. I woke up and I was worryingly OK.

I should have been throwing up.

I wasn't.

It's not the drinking that's so much of the worry, it's the getting used to it. When I can neck a bottle of vodka over the course of 3 evenings, and still turn up to work and be productive, then I'm on a collision-course with disaster. Not the kind of disaster where I turn up for work in a dishevelled intoxicated state - that would never happen - but the kind of disaster where I end up dying of liver failure in my 50s, having been an alcoholic for more than a decade.

I think spirits are a step too far. Spirits spell disaster. The hard stuff is dangerous.

It's been shocking, the effect of strong alcoholic drinks - I've not found a limit where I start to feel unwell, and the hangovers are too unbearable, which is very dangerous. I also have failed to find any point where I think "I've had enough" or "I'm adequately drunk". Strange, that I would never reach a point where intoxication becomes unpleasant; aversive. That's worrying.

So. No more spirits. No more vodka. I need to stop that particular stupid idea immediately.

I do have an enormous amount of stress, which is reaching its peak. The deadline is almost here. The end is nigh.

I'm not sure how my colleagues in other teams are coping. I'm not sure how people who have a lot of responsibility, professional pride and reputation at stake, are coping right now. One colleague who's worked at the same organisations that I have - notably JPMorgan and HSBC - alluded to having a similar hard-drinking predilection. Alcoholism is ubiquitous in the Square Mile. Alcoholism is notorious in banking. I've lost numerous friends and colleagues to alcoholism, from that world. It was practically a rite of passage to end up in The Priory, all paid for by JPMorgan or whoever, in order to dry out and then come back to work.

It's ridiculously demanding work, delivering huge IT projects for gigantic organisations. The alcohol goes hand-in-hand with the project work, because otherwise people's blood pressure would be too high and the stress would be unbearable. Work hard, play hard. It's all good fun, until somebody dies 10 or 15 years later from alcohol-related illness.

I've been patting myself on the back, but nobody's really officially recognised my contribution, as yet. Why should they? So many people are working hard. So many people are involved. So many people are stressed and under pressure. Why should anybody single me out as special, in particular?

I veer between feeling confident and pleased with the project I've been involved in, and feeling that there's something really fundamentally wrong which is going to ruin things. Some nights I go to sleep content, and wake up excited to improve things. Some nights I can hardly sleep with worrying about an unresolved problem, and I wake up with anxiety, not knowing whether I'll resolve the problems satisfactorily.

Taking the edge off every night, self-medicating for my insomnia and anxiety, I have been drinking far too much. I drank bucketloads over the weekend. This week has been ridiculous for alcohol consumption. It's terrible.

This whole period is terrible for my health. The pressure is relentless. The workload is relentless. The demands I place upon myself to perform and excel are huge; I'm so determined to achieve something great, to prove to myself that I'm still a talented and capable engineer, who can deliver huge projects on time with high quality.

I keep telling myself that I need to keep pushing myself, just a little longer. The finish line is in sight. Not long now.

 

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MMORPG

2 min read

This is a story about co-operative play...

Java

What's the game I'm playing right now? Well, it's called "get the massive software system to work before the damn hard deadline". It's a multiplayer game. It's fun.

I've spent all evening chatting to some genuinely delightful colleagues. Instead of trash-talking the overpaid fuckwits, I should be raving about what a pleasure it is to work with some brilliant individuals.

I'm not so sure I would go as far as to say "I love my job" given that earlier I very much wanted to down tools and give up until the morning, in the face of overwhelming technical obstacles. I was inclined to wait for a couple of more skilled individuals to be on hand to offer some real, tangible, useful assistance, but I lucked out on being able to take a couple of nice shortcuts.

The joy has come from the camaraderie of working with the select group of individuals who really care; who really know their onions and are used to working under pressure, having to solve nasty problems with a gun to their head and a crazy number of people breathing down their neck.

The chips are down. This is sink or swim time. This is where shit gets real. I love it.

Earlier I thought "is it only Monday?" and I thought that I should give up and take it easy, because it's going to be a long week. Then, I got creative and found a way though. I've been doing work-related stuff up to 10pm but I don't care, because we're making progress; we're kicking ass.

This is fun. It's sociable.

 

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