Why I’m homeless and how you can help

So I’m kind of in a fix.

If you follow this blog, you’ll know I haven’t been as productive as planned over the last few months. In June I wrote about atheism and depression—some nights, as I say there, ‘I fight the urge to smash myself to bits’, but my brain has more effective ways of tripping me up. The worst, despondency, has immobilised me all summer long, and I’ve struggled to get much done.

A few factors fed into it. The last bout of drama on this network took the toll I assumed it would—I’m just starting to post regularly again—but more importantly, it was the latest in a series of things that have made 2015 rough so far. Until July I was dealing with a flatmate who made it hard to work from home, and since late last year I’ve been estranged from most members of my family. Although the latter’s done me good, it’s been a constant distraction from work and stripped me of any other source of support. Political despair, widespread among my friends in the UK, hasn’t helped—in short, I’ve been in a rut.

It turns out knowing you’re in a rut is the first part of climbing out. What my mental health needs, I’ve come to realise, is a change of scene—so a couple of weeks back, it struck me the time’s come for me to move back to England. I’ve written this blog from Berlin most of the last two years, and will never tire of the place, but for now, well, I’m tired of the place, and it’s clear to me I need to go elsewhere before I can fully knuckle back down again. On top of that, I’m long overdue for a health checkup in a country where I have access to medicine.

A writer-friend and I are looking at renting somewhere in the New Year, as grown-ups seem to do, and before then I’ll need to sort various things—accounts, application forms and so on—which can only be taken care of while in the country. With that in mind, having sold off what furniture I owned and reduced my possessions to a rucksack’s worth, my plan is to fly into Gatwick in the next week or two. From September 24 through to November, I have friends’ floors and sofas to sleep on, and I’ll find temporary places for December during that time.

I’m getting back to work as is, and drawing plans to finance the next few months. Now that I’m Patreon-equipped and no longer being strangled by Weltschmerz, I’m going to start writing the two posts a week my page on there pledges. (Thanks to assorted patrons’ generosity, I already make $30 per post, more than I earn from adverts in a month.) In addition, I’m going to seek more paid writing elsewhere, and have one publishing house listening to book ideas. Other projects are in the works: I’m currently editing one book, am likely to edit another before year’s end and am looking to take more on. Similarly, I’m finishing work now on redesigned graphics for Miri’s blog Brute Reason, and am in search of other gigs.

There’s a plan in place here—the trouble is, I can’t start executing it until I’ve left Berlin, and right now I can’t afford to do that. A year ago, when I was in monetary meltdown below the bottom of my overdraft, people who read this blog came to my aid, and as a result of projects they hired me to carry out—as a translator, editor, graphic designer—I haven’t been in the red since. I’m pretty proud of that, for the same reason I’m proud to have reached 24 without having had a credit card, and the aim is to reach December 31 having stayed in the black all year. Debt is a trap, and I’m determined to remain responsible with finances—so I’m going to do the responsible thing and ask for help.

If I fly into London next weekend, several friends’ sofas are waiting for me, but for now I’m stuck floating around Berlin, temporary-homeless, on my last £80 following a depressed couple of months. Making that one way trip is much less pricey than finding a new place here, and will enable me to get back to work properly, but without taking my bank account subzero and facing the resultant fees, not something I can do right now.

If you enjoy the things I write—about queer issues, atheism, pop culture, mental health, geekery—or if you’ve never followed what I do, but have been sent this post and want to help, there are four things you can do for me if you feel like it.

1) Tip me

Now that this blog’s Patreon-supported, I rely less on one-off donations from readers leaving me tips. On the whole this an enormous help, and one of the reasons I’m in the black right now—but since I only get paid that way on the fifth of each month, it’s not going to do me any good till October.

If you’re a patron, I can’t say how much your support means, and I won’t ask anything more of you. For everybody else—and in case any patrons actively want to leave a one-off donation too, I’m going to declare my tip jar open. Here it is.


I’m not going to turn down anything I get or set a target amount—every bit helps, and by definition, I don’t know what surprise costs might attack me in the coming month—but if ten people each give me ten pounds, I’ll likely be able to leave Berlin without sinking into the red, and of twenty people do, I’ll have room left for food and public transport.

Here, again, is my donation page—everyone who leaves any amount has my thanks.

2) House me

If you’re in London, or in Berlin during the next week, and have a free sofa or (somewhat long) stretch of floor, and you want to help in some other way, I’m looking for places to sleep before the 24th. (Several friends have already offered theirs, but not such that the whole period is covered, and having a plan B always reassures me.) In return for your hospitality, I’ll be more than happy to cook and wash up for you. Here are some of the things I like to make.

3) Patronise me

As I said, Patreon is of limited immediate help—but I’ll still be getting back to writing regularly over the next few weeks, and will still have things I need to pay for during October, November and December—as well as after that. Renting somewhere new in England incurs all kinds of costs, and in the medium-to-long-term future, I’ll still need earn a living. If you like how and what I write and want to support it—examples on my page there—becoming a patron is the most effective way, and as you’ll see, all kinds of perks are on offer.


4) Hire me

And if you want to help me get paid for something else—consider this an advertisement—there are other strings to my bow.

For one thing, I design visuals, including but not limited to ones for bloggers and activists. Here are some of the things I’ve made.

For another, I edit books and writing of all other kinds, and I’m pretty good at it. If you’re a writer or communicator and want to clean up your copy, I’m all yours. In Greta Christina’s words:

If Alex is offering you his services, TAKE HIM UP ON IT. Alex did two extensive rounds of copy editing on [my book] Coming Out Atheist, and he is one of the best copy editors I’ve ever worked with. I can’t recommend him highly enough. Seriously. Hire him.

I also translate into and (especially) from German: the secularist book I spent last winter translating for its US edition goes to print early next year, and was a Spiegel.de bestseller in Germany.

My rates for all these things are negotiable, and I like being employed by friends and strangers equally. If you feel like hiring me or might be interested in doing so, drop me an email.

And if you can’t do any of those things, but want to be of assistance, share this post.

A I said, I’m no longer in a rut—but I am in a fix. If you can help me fix my fix and feel like doing so, this is your chance. With any luck, it’ll be another year before I need help again.

My atheism isn’t joyful or meaningful. Thank fuck for that

000Something like once a year, I spend a night wanting nothing but to curl up and die. It’s not that I think of killing myself, though way back it did come to that – just that those nights, under what feels like the crushing weight of conscious thought, I long not to exist. Some hungry pit in my chest drains all colour from the world, refusing to swallow the rest of me, and being awake hurts. Social contact becomes like prodding a cracked rib, everyday tasks an uphill slog: I sit for what feels like an age trying to find the will to tie my shoes, fall apart making tea. These are, I’m acutely aware, insane things to find hard – because I am insane.

At twenty-four, the dark spells come and go quickly. When the worst hit, I fight the urge to smash myself to bits – to skin my knuckles on the wall, claw at my forearms, beat my head against the window pane till either cracks – but nowadays those fits of self-loathing happen years apart. (The last, in April, was my first since university.) Most days I’m fine, and it feels like yesterday the urge to self-destruct lasted months rather than hours. I was ten when I first wanted to die, fourteen when I decided how, fifteen on first attempting it. Nine years and counting without incident, it seems to me, is a good run.

For the short time I took them on the quiet, antidepressants only did so much, but atheism has helped me no end. You might expect me to report that as a churchgoer, being called a sinner in a hopeless world did my head in; actually, hope was the problem. As a believer in the risen Christ, it can be hard not to feel ashamed of existential gloom, as if the grace of salvation has bypassed you through some fault of your own. There must, I felt, be some turmoil in my soul if being saved didn’t make me feel any less wretched, some failure in my faith that warranted further self-punishment. As an atheist, I feel differently. [Read more…]

Robin Williams’ reported suicide is not an “allegation”

Talented people keep dying.

Heath Ledger. Natasha Richardson. Michael Jackson. Patrick Swayze. Amy Winehouse. Alexander McQueen. Pete Postlethwaite. Christopher Hitchens. Steve Jobs. Whitney Houston. Donna Summer. Michael Clarke Duncan. Cory Monteith. Paul Walker. Philip Seymour Hoffman. HR Giger. Rik Mayall.

I was sixteen when Ledger overdosed. Since then it’s seemed as if an endless stream of celebrated people have been dying far too young. I can’t tell if it’s really so, the past few years being a statistical atrocity, or if I only noticed as a teenager how often a bright light goes out. I’m not sure which would be worse.

Robin Williams was an extraordinary talent. I was never a particular fan of his family films, despite being a child when most of them came out, but watching him in Good Will Hunting is the first time I remember recognising some films stood out above the rest. I laughed so hard at Good Morning, Vietnam that my face hurt; I was mesmerised by him in Dead Poets Society; I recoiled watching One Hour Photo. I’ve seen very few comics with his mix of depth and speed, few actors more quotable.

People around the net are saying all of this. For most of today, as one tends to when someone so valued dies, I felt like I ought to say something – a Facebook post, a blog post, a tweet or retweet. But what do you add? I’d nothing more to say, I thought, than the obvious truth as banal as he was extraordinary: the man’s dead, and it sucks.

Then I saw a link on social media.


‘Fox News host labels Robin Williams “such a coward”‘, a headline at The Raw Story announces,  ‘over alleged suicide’.


Although representatives of Williams have described him ‘battling severe depression’, his suicide specifically is unconfirmed. (Presumably it’ll come down to a coroner’s report.) But it isn’t an ‘allegation’.

When the press refers to something as ‘alleged’, it’s usually because its confirmation will do major PR damage. Sexual assaults by public figures are ‘alleged’; police brutality is ‘alleged’; political corruption is ‘alleged’. People said to have troubling attitudes often complain, for instance, about ‘allegations of racism’, since ‘alleged’ now suggests something shameful or criminal in a way ‘possible’ or ‘reported’ doesn’t.

Having depression isn’t shameful. Having depression is not a crime.

Self-harm may be a crime; it it shouldn’t be. It isn’t shameful.

Killing yourself, or attempting it, may be a crime; it shouldn’t be. It isn’t shameful.

To refer to Robin Williams’ apparent suicide as having been ‘alleged’ frames it as an accusation. It suggests that if and when the actor is confirmed to have ended his own life, he ought to be thought less of – ironically, exactly what Raw Story‘s article slams Fox News for saying.

I googled the words ‘Robin Williams alleged suicide’. I saw Guardian Liberty Voice announce ‘Williams allegedly commits suicide’. I saw Perez Hilton describe attacks on him for ‘allegedly committing suicide’. I saw phrases like ‘actor’s alleged suicide’ and ‘the allegedly story’.

On social media, I’m also seeing discussions of mental health – hopes that in the wake of losing Williams, much-needed conversations might be had; anger over incredulity that a rich celebrity might be depressed; openings-up from those who went, like me, through periods of self-harm and depression. The emergent theme is often shame of one kind or another directed at those who turn to suicide, whether religious guilt, the stigma of being ‘crazy’ or regret about the misery of loved.

If we’re going to talk about this, let’s do it without encouraging the shame we’re trying to dismantle.

If you think people who kill themselves deserve not to be looked down on, stop using language that suggests they should be.

Robin Williams’ suicide has been reported; it is unconfirmed; it is apparent. It is not an allegation.




Hunger games: food, money and how I grew up feeling fat

Twice in my life, I’ve been a bit rotund. Both times, it was a common enough experience. At eleven I gorged on pizza, chocolate bars and caramel ice creams, more available at secondary school than in our previously welfare-dependent house, and stayed a slightly tubby teenager till added height changed my proportions, though it may be that having never quite eaten enough before, I was only gaining puppy fat I already should have. A decade on, I snacked my way through Oxford finals, spurning regular meals and comfort-eating. I’ve never been what you’d call fat, but nor during these periods was I slim.

My exam weight has now mostly been shed, more through abstinence than effort: since June, I’ve had no student loan to blow on cake. (No one expects a sweet tooth in someone as sour as me. You’d be surprised.) The poverty diet, as I’ve fondly come to call it, reached its logical extreme this week.

In January I moved back to Berlin, the place I started blogging, and managed to lose my debit card in transit – my bank, amusingly, has since located it in the Philippines. After ringing up immediately to cancel it, I had to change my address with them for a replacement to be sent out, and phoned again when this was done to order one. Presumably since I reported losing my card twice, the bank managed to cancel both the old and new ones. The latter’s last days of use ran out this weekend, and until another has arrived on Friday, I can make no withdrawals, either to pay the rent or to buy food.

Crash diets are a bad way to lose weight: the body responds to starvation by stockpiling fat. That said, and while these fasts have always been involuntary for me, I’ve found that I can make some use of them. As I wrote in December, I can go days without meals since as a child I had to now and again, but for this exact reason I’m prone to binges. I crave food for the joy of eating more than the benefit of being full, and forced restraint takes my mind off using it as a diversion. I’d be lying, too, if I said some part of me doesn’t enjoy the thinner-than-usual body in the mirror when food is off the menu. I’ve no doubt this is unhealthy.

‘Now that I have begun to celebrate lost inches,’ Ben Blanchard of the Pathfinders Project writes, ‘I am fearful that I might develop an eating disorder when left to my own devices as a busy academic back in the states. Until then, I am focusing on not focusing on it, and refuse to give my mind footholds to climb on to an obsession.’ Ben documents a weight loss far more dramatic than any I’ve undergone or needed, but the thought still resonates. What if I cared about this too much?

From the time my eleven year old self became conscious of his slight tubbiness, I’ve never felt quite thin enough – while my body’s undeniably changed shape at several points, I’ve yet entirely to throw off the sense of being overweight.

Hindsight and data tell me this instinct is ludicrous. In television footage from 2012, when I was 20 and the thinnest I remember being, I look like a string bean. In the next year, I didn’t just get fatter for exams but had a late and quite unnecessary growth spurt – between that October and last June, I went from 6’2” to 6’4” and developed relative breadth for the first time. (Before that, I’d had shoulders drag queens would kill for.) If you’d hugged me while the relevant footage was being shot, you’d have sustained a paper cut. So why, at the time, did I feel fat?

I go back further, through pictures of me at eighteen and sixteen. None exist between about twelve and fifteen, because I wouldn’t allow them; school photographs were lost on the way home. Even after my height first rocketed, I didn’t think of myself as slim, but seemingly I was. I’d always been tall for my age anyway, particularly in the leg, and like Ben (if for different reasons) struggled to buy trousers – for adequate length, I’ve often had to wear ones for much bigger waists than mine, and wonder now if it affected how I saw myself. I’m more given to blame parents and P.E. teachers in the end.

Losing my finals weight, combined with the broader frame I got concurrently, has given me a body I quite like. I’m no more toned or skinny than I was two years ago – less so, in fact – but the casing seems for the first time to tie up with the software. The issue, I conclude, is interior: the way I felt about my shape had little to do with what it actually was. Perhaps my mind matured just as my body did. It seems a question of framing either way.

Nowadays I prepare most of my own meals, kept slightly on the paunchy side by love of starchy foods (pasta, pizza, potatoes) and baking. This has provoked in me a strange desire to become healthy – to exercise, eat better and get out more. I’m not sure exactly what will happen here, but whatever does will be gradual, done because want to do it rather than feel a need. I never had impulses like this when I felt overweight. They’ve come to me as I’ve found satisfaction with how I look, and I don’t think that’s by chance.