2022 Yearnote

There are years we’d rather forget, and them some we wish to cherish. 2022 has been a significant and transformative year for me, particularly considering the two or three that came before it. Here’s some of the things that happened.

First, a brief primer on my mental health. For 15 years I’d been taking carbamazepine to manage both bipolar and epilepsy, but I was approaching the age beyond which its sustained use is not advised. It had done a good job on the seizures, but had little impact mood-wise. I shan’t dwell on the darkness, other than to say that for more than six years I have tracked my mood daily from -5 (the most extreme depression) to +5 (the most extreme mania). A typical person would usually fall between -1 and +1. This scoring is referenced below.

In 2020, during lockdown, I relocated from London to Birmingham. This offered much better (faster) access to mental healthcare. With the blessing of my neurologist and neuropsychologist back in London, a consultant psychologist had slowly added low doses of lamotrigine to test for contraindications. The National Health Service is a many splendid thing; we must fight for it.


Mo in Costa Rica

  • My mood was pretty low at this time; averaging -2.3.
  • But, made the excellent decision to travel to Costa Rica as a bit of a firebreak. Utterly staggering. An unforgettable trip. And if I were to forget it, I can fall back on about 6,000 photos. By far the best lodgings (perhaps of my life) were with a lovely American couple–Keith & Joe—running a handful of casitas on the side of a mountain in thick jungle. Truly charming and welcoming guys, and I’m looking forward to seeing them again.


A travelator handrail at the NEC: 'hold me'

  • Seemed like the right time to conclude 💥BLAST!, a newsletter I’d been writing. 150 were sent out over three years, and recipients were kind about it. The circulation was low but its readers were loyal and engaged. An amazing amount of work, though. A well-researched and carefully-written weekly email takes much more effort than it appears.
  • There was a caravan/campervan show at the NEC. I’ve been slowly converting an old delivery van into a camper myself, so went to check out the competition. Two observations:
    1. Factory-built caravans and campervans are incredibly expensive. There were none at the show I could afford to buy, even if I wanted to. I found a small dinghy, but nothing more.
    2. There was only one camper that was impressive enough to be desirable, but at least 10 times as expensive as mine will have been.
  • Mood: averaging -1.6. The epilepsy and bipolar consultants have finally reached a consensus on a target lamotrigine dose, but it’d take a while to get there. Increased the dose by 25mg per day this month. Once topped out, there’s the challenge of slowly titrating down the medication that’s kept me more-or-less seizure-free all these years.


Ply-lining the van

  • Mood: averaging -2.2. Pretty low. Increased lamotrigine to 250mg per day.
  • Started looking for a little property to buy as investment. Didn’t take long to find a little granny flat in fair condition but needing all-new interior, as these things do. Had an offer accepted and began the process.
  • Out in the van, with the ceiling, walls and bedframe all installed, the carpentry turned to fiddly little jobs such as ply-lining the ‘garage’—the large space below the bed accessible through the rear doors—boxing in the rear wheels and so forth. It was a fine balance between making it solid while taking up as little space as possible.


Mo on a photo shoot

  • Mood: averaging -2.3. Still increasing lamotrigine steadily; by this point at 300mg per day. Not far to go.
  • In 2000 I co-founded Lumino, a healthtech/femtech startup. Spent a day doing a video shoot for its first product, which we’re calling a fully-functional prototype but is already consumer-grade if not medical-grade. Figured out how best to run a day’s shooting via a teleprompter. Got some great product demo shots. Then spent a week editing and grading, and also a week composing and producing a soundtrack. This is the true joy of a startup: doing everything.
  • The snooker world championship is the best thing about my Aprils, which was lucky this time around as I’d caught Covid. The virus had left my by the final, but the longer symptoms lingered for another three months.
  • With the ply-lining done, the van’s mains-voltage electricals started to come together: I installed a small consumer unit to accept either an hook-up or, in future, a feed from a big battery via an inverter. The cable runs had all been installed in the walls for months, so it was a positive to get all the loose wiring tidied away.
  • I also made all the doors for the overhead cupboards in the shaker style. To make as light as possible, they’re made from a thin softwood frame with a 5mm plywood insert. The inserts can be removed to aid decoration later: they may be wallpapered, or something.


Overhead cupboards in the van

  • Mood: now averaging -1.8. Have now reached 400mg per day of lamotrigine which is the magic number. Some side-effects, which may be from taking big doses of two drugs at once. Not a massive improvement in mood at this point.
  • I’d been looking to cut back my hours on the startup while the clinical work, to which I add little value, gets done. Got approched about a job in Bristol, which was on my list of possible places to settle down. I had no intention of spending one moment more in Birmingham than was absolutely necessary, but also I didn’t want to move to yet another rental property. The job was interesting and I was a good fit. I got to the final two but they appointed the other guy. Afterwards, they took the time to call to take me through their decision, which was classy.
  • With the cupboard doors complete, I installed them all with little gas struts to hold them open and spring-loaded clips to hold them closed. The effect is transformative: closing over the cupboard carcasses feels much more like a functioning camper.


Sky over the suburbs of south-west Birmingham

  • The flat purchase fell through. After the surveyor reported an issue with the structure of the garage; the seller went totally silent for 13 weeks. So it was best to leave them to it.
  • Mood: averaging -2.1, and it was time to begin titrating down the carbamazepine, by 50mg per day every couple of weeks.
  • Began a group therapy thing for bipolar people, via Zoom. Nothing I hadn’t heard before, but keen to show willing.
  • The band I was in two decades ago suddenly popped up via WhatsApp! So via the magic of current-era communication and recording technology, we began collaborating to resuscitate the old material and perhaps explore some new songs too.
  • Began an interview process at an agency, coincidentally in Bristol. I’d spoken with a few London agencies but the roles were fairly dull and the remuneration wouldn’t justify a move back to the smoke. But Bristol is viable.
  • The van sailed through its MOT again. Finding a good garage is like finding a good dentist.


A seriously wet day in Bristol

  • Mood was averaging 0.8; a marked improvement. By this point my carbamazepine dose was down to 100mg/day, which is below the effective dose. As I’d not had a seizure or aura, it was a good indication that the lamotrigine is now doing the heavy lifting.
  • Completed the Bristol agency interview process and accepted a role as lead strategist at Great State, an agency I’d had my eye on for years. I fitted myself out with a less temporary home-office setup and bought a massive screen. Never thought I’d become an ultrawide guy but now you’d have to wrestle it off me.
  • There was a litter of fox cubs living in the garden. Several fence panels had blown over during the winter, and the landlord steadfastly refused to do anything about it. So the foxes moved in under one.


Carpentry in the van

  • Mood was averaging -1.1. Compared with where things had been over recent months and years this was a massive victory, and most likely the result of finally switching out carbamazepine for lamotrigine. Amazing stuff.
  • Did a workshop for the University of Cambridge Social Ventures Incubator on brand development: took a lot of prep but really good fun on the day. Will likely repeat it.
  • It was very hot, even for August. A couple of days demanded the windows to be covered up. It was so hot that it melted the hardcore tape I was using to fix things over the window.
  • The van carpentry had reached the stage building the surface across the width of the van from the floor up to the bed. Once done it’ll look like simple cupboards. In practice, it was a complex build as it doesn’t touch the floor and so had to be constructed in suspension.


At the opticians

  • Mood averaging -0.9, so now firmly in typical range. I had started to feel like a real person and it was bloody excellent.
  • Went to see a Derren Brown live show, and then an audience with Tim Peake, on consecutive nights. Both bloody excellent.
  • Gained a goddaughter! Bloody excellent.
  • I’d been heading down to Bristol regularly, staying over in one of the Premier Inn. One drowsy morning, I managed to smack my toe while clambering into the bathtub for a shower. By midday it was black and angry. That evening I fiddled about with it and learned, the hard way, that it was probably dislocated. It calmed down in a couple of weeks of hobbling around.
  • We did a company jolly to the Crystal Maze Experience in central London, as the queue to pass the Queen’s coffin had seemingly enveloped the whole city. I thought I’d like it, but I loved it. It was camp as Christmas, and a good crowd of people.
  • On the same London trip I found, finally, a pair of glasses frames that fit around my deceptively wide face.


Building benches in the van

  • Mood averaging -0.7. Right in the pocket.
  • In 2019, a handful of months before the pandemic, I was best man to the loveliest couple on the planet. It’s fair to say the first three years of their marriage had not been as they had expected. The last time I saw them, between lockdowna, we sat six feet apart on their patio, eating Deliveroo. Anyway, I treated us all to brunch and a spa day. A nice easy time: I think it did us all some good.
  • Started building the frames that will become the bench seats either side of the van. One contains a shower base and both conceal all manner of pipes and cables and whatnot, so it needed a lot of careful planning. As with all the most difficult components I took a day or so to build a CAD model. The finished thing is rarely as accurate as it was on the computer but the process exposes all the watch-outs and potential cock-ups in advance, before I start sawing up good timber.


Impressive courtyard in Marrakesh

  • Mood: averaging 0.0! Equidistant from dangerously low and all-out mania, just like a real boy. I can’t overstate the significance. In 2020 I was signed off work for months. Anxiety, paranoia, joylessness, fatigue, visual and auditory hallucinations, all that. Staring into the void, as they say. It took months but a good care plan can be transformative.
  • I’d not had a break since January, so took a week in Marrakesh. Stayed in a charming riad with a hot-tub on the roof, so divided the time down on the mad, buzzing streets and up on the roof enjoying the sunshine. The normalising of my mood is strongly evident in the photos. Many of my travel photos capture me in wonderful places looking empty and forlorn. Not so this time.
  • I talked myself out of buying a new phone, and instead found a way of mounting a wireless-charging battery on the back of my existing one: that warm and fuzzy feeling of being a sensible and discerning consumer.


Christmas party

  • The trade unions were rightly ramping up on strike action, so the trains were all over the place. But I was fortunate enough to be working hybrid and more-or-less flex my trips between Bristol and Birmingham around the strikes.
  • Mood: averaging +0.1. Perfect. Life-changing.
  • I bought and put up a Christmas tree. It’s probably been a decade since I last did this. It didn’t seem worth it while I was too low to enjoy it, and/or everything seemed to be in a state of flux. I was typically fastidious about choosing and arranging its decorations. My trees always used to be blue and silver but this time I’ve drawn inspiration from pomanders (and/or Terry’s Chocolate Orange) and gone for orange and chocolate. It is resplendent amongst piles of crates containing all my possessions (as in Raiders of the Lost Ark) awaiting a permanent home in which to be unpacked..
  • After spending a long while in the Covid waiting-list backlog, I finally had an endoscopy to take a look at my angry sinus: the upshot was to just keep managing it with the steroid I’ve been using for four years or so. The QE Hospital in Birmingham is a marvel of efficiency.
  • Great State threw an exceptional 20s-themed Christmas party in Bristol. I don’t think I’ve been to a better work do, which is probably high praise from a teetotaller. Making my way home, through a train strike and also Christmas shopping madness, was challenging. Worth it, though.
  • Went to see Peter Kay as he kicks off a run of arena shows. What a great night out with 15,000 friends.

In all, a good year. Good in the sense that it saw a more positive trajectory emerge from the difficult years that preceded it. Onwards and, as they say, upwards.