[Epistemic status: weird. 1/3 a genuine question that actually is a little interesting, 1/3 a vaguely useful rant, and 1/3 at attempt at convincing myself of something I know is true. Overall, something difficult that I’m still processing]

Inspired by this post, or at least by the questions it created in my brain, even though I don’t have the same disorder. Also inspired by the thinking I did after writing that.

As some of you may know, being depressed is only half as much fun as it sounds. Of course, solving a depression, getting better, is also hard. I’m sure you get the idea: "How can I be a OK-ish human being ever again?" ; "How can I deal with the consequences of having lost opportunities?" ; "How can I accept, and deal with, the fact that I’m apparently the sort of person who gets depressed over a relatively minor thing and stays depressed for four years?"

I wanted to start this paragraph saying something about how recovering from a depression is hard for everyone — and it is! But I guess the fact that I’m asking myself these questions mostly means there’s an underlying cause of my depression I haven’t fully dealt with, even as I was putting the bad moods themselves under control. I’ve been re-reading HPMOR, and two things in the first few chapters describe very well what has been going on in my mind for the past four years or so. First, a massive fear of failure, or fear of not living up to my expectations, and second, some difficulty with relating to people (shall I venture to say that neither of these is really surprising to find in an autistic person of the kind who ends up on LW?). So, the fear of failure. The first significant damage it did was, when I was 18, making me choose a degree I didn’t actually like, but that was prestigious and seemed quite easy. Much, much easier than the extremely anxiety-inducing things I’d have liked better, anyway. Unsurprisingly, I turned out to hate it and got depressed.

Now, normally at this point, one would think "I hate doing that stuff, but I sort of know there are some other things I might want to try, and I’m only halfway through my first year of college, I’ll just go do something else.". To which my fear of failure calmly answered "Nonononono stop it stop it stop it stop it no way you do that!!!!" (It the anxiety’s defence, it was a surprisingly prestigious college, and I still was too anxious to consider other options anyway). That’s when I got got, right? Anyway, I stayed. Now, the fun thing with anxiety is the doom loop. In my case: anxiety and fear, preventing me from solving what were then pretty minor and common problems (being a confused teenager — how incredible is that, really?), therefore fueling the depression, itself fueling the fear that I am, indeed, being a failure, wash, rinse, repeat. I stopped considering I ever might amount to anything in life. Maybe that’s where I got got.

Also, I would spent a lot of time lurking on LW even then and maybe it was not a good idea. You see, it sounds like having an endless supply of actually good advice on how to act in spite of fear, how to try out new things, how to steer one’s life in the right direction, would be helpful. But being depressed, of course, what all that means is that "I tried to get better and I couldn’t" ; "I am the kind of person who does not get things done, ever". Which are arguably less helpful lessons to remember.

I still could have tried to find interesting people around me anyway, and that’d have helped me get better. Might even have solved it entirely: at 18, I wasn’t the only only engaged in a mad struggle with fear. But I guess I’m the kind of autistic nerd who avoided middle-school bullying by simply not caring about socials and sort of considering "deliberately befriending people, or generally deliberately using social skills or get involved in social situations" to be a very non-normal thing to do. (Incidentally, I know I should care at least somewhat, and that knowledge has always been a reliable source of extra depression fuel in times of shortage). Anyway, that prevented me from learning whatever could be learned by staying in that college. Then Covid hit, and lockdown helped me stay stuck in a low-key depressed state without actually solving it for the next few years. That’s how I ended up, last September, in a masters degree. I am obviously very much not suited to it, even though, as before, I’m still good enough at writing essays to get above-average grades. More depression. But that one got bad enough that I could no longer tolerate to let it eat me up like that. I got help, and the depression’s been getting a lot better. I now actually want to be happy and successful (Yay!).

But, here’s my problem: I definitely haven’t shaken off the fear of failure. If anything, it now seems far more warranted, and therefore worse. Just to spell it out: fear that after spending years on the verge of insanity for no good reason, maybe I’m actually crazy ; fear that I’m emotionally immature ; fear that being depressed and helpless has now been recorded by my brain as a part of my personality ; most importantly, huge will to do interesting things and be academically successful, and fear that it’s maybe too late to do whatever it’ll take to do that (that might be why people usually have their teenage identity crisis in their teenage years, when it’s much easier to get better before it all becomes important).

I guess I am mostly writing this as an excuse to convince myself that it’s actually the fear of failure itself that’s the problem here, and that I’m not nearly as doomed as I think I am. Still, those fears are partly legit, right? So, my question for you is twofold: do you know where I could find resources on how to deal with that specific kind of unjustified terror ; and how can I actually deal with the fact that I might be crazy, immature, or have burned masses of important bridges for real? A depression that lasts a few months seems to happen to pretty much every college student, but can someone actually fully recover from one that lasts four years?

Edit: after some more thinking about it, I still believe in the explanations I give here for my issues, but that actually doesn’t seem to be the exact same thing as pointing out what I need to solve. And that seems to be the feeling of emotional nihilism. And I actually prefer that word to the more common ‘depression’, in that context, although they refer to the same mental health status. The issue is no longer that I feel very bad, but it still very much is that I don’t care. I wish I had something to dedicate myself to, and I know it’s the main thing I’m missing. I also have sort of an idea how I might find it, what I might want to start doing. That’s my depression improving. But, like the depressed wreck I was a few weeks ago, I still don’t care to actually do it, or pursue it until it works. Not sure how I can get started on that. And, by the way, I wonder if it isn’t also why lurking on LW while depressed didn’t turn out to be good: I see that I ought to be doing this or that, I accept it as likely, but I don’t actually care to do it, and I don’t see how to bring myself to care. Hence, feeling bad.

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