Depression—An Update

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In late 2012 I had a depressive episode. This is well documented; I wrote about it on-line, and I even gave a talk at OSCON. My thought processes during that time were broken and cyclical; cognitively I knew that people were great, but emotionally I found myself intensely disliking them. As someone who’s long derived joy and energy from those around me, I seemed to spend all my energy arguing with the emotional part of myself that people were great… and yet it wouldn’t listen. The situation was exhausting, and I didn’t get anywhere.

Eventually, I struck a deal. I would admit that perhaps people aren’t as great as I once thought, and that emotional monkey-brain would quieten down and let me think again. It worked, and I’d joke with my role-playing friends I recovered by taking a point in misanthropy.

It was a good deal, because I knew that point in misanthropy could eventually be removed, and because anything was better than being in the state I was back then.

Unfortunately, the misanthropy stuck around. It’s not as bad as it used to be, but it’s definitely there.

You might have noticed me at less events in 2013, and part of that’s because the thought of seeing people has often been completely unappealing. Usually when I’m at an event, I am social and happy, but the misanthropy often comes back as soon as I leave. Sometimes it comes back hard.

Humans have a knack of making up plausible excuses for our own behaviour, and then believing those excuses to be real¹. We have the same knack when it comes to emotions. We’ll look for things in our environment try to explain why we’re feeling a particular way, and believe they’re actually the reason we feel that way².

Consequently, when I’m feeling misanthropic, it’s hard for me to tell which thoughts of mine are actually legitimate, and which thoughts only feel legitimate because of my emotional state. Often I’m appalled when I look back at some of my thoughts when I feel this way.

Readers of HPMOR will be familiar with assigning labels to the different viewpoints in one’s own head. When I’m feeling misanthropic, my Slytherin brain seems to get a larger share of my think-space. Slytherin brain isn’t evil; instead it’s rational, ethical, and often it pairs up with Ravenclaw brain to provide strong empirical support for its arguments. Slytherin brain is strongly oriented towards achievements and problem-solving; it’s often the reason why I get stuff done.

However Slytherin brain has a reduced coefficient-of-concern—not only for others—but also for my own short-term circumstances. It’s acceptable for myself—or other people—to suffer short-term discomfort if it results in long term good.

When I’m in a peaceful, stable state, Slytherin brain gives great advice. It means I’ll pass on the thing which seems attractive now, but which I know will prove to be a bad choice later on. It’s why I’ll do boring but essential paperwork when I could be looking at pictures of cats on the Internet. Slytherin brain wields executive function like a boss.

However when I’m misanthropic, Slytherin brain presents all sorts of plans to make me feel better, but which almost completely ignore the feelings of others. While it acknowledges that being a total jerk isn’t going to make anyone happy, it seem to feel I could be a lot more of a jerk to get what I want.

I’m not exactly happy with that.

While I’m primarily writing this to help quell my thoughts, I’m certainly not above help and assistance. If you do wish to lend a hand, then please encourage me to get out, get involved, and don’t hesitate to introduce me to others face-to-face. I have a good inclination that with enough exposure to fabulous people my misanthropy will reduce. I hope this year I’ll be able to kick it for good.

Many thanks,

~ Paul

¹ Bargh, John A., and Tanya L. Chartrand. “The Unbearable Automaticity of Being.” American Psychologist 54, no. 7 (1999): 462–479. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.54.7.462.

² Amongst other things, my talk “All Your Brains Suck” discusses how we use environmental queues to rationalise thoughts and emotions.

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