Borasko's Shortform

by Borasko16th Feb 202110 comments
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I seem to be going back into a major depressive state, emotionally it doesn't feel much different from my normal functioning depression, but I notice a largely decreased ability to devote mental energy and get started on tasks. Words seem to not make sense, like everybody is writing in Wernicke's Aphasia, it's all there and fluent but the words have no meaning to me.

When I try to code or do mathematics my ability do calm down and try to solve problems get severely reduced, I short circuit to irritability and anger that I can't quickly solve what I think I should know.

Here are some warning signs that I'm heading in for a rough depression time for future reference, what I've noticed is

*I wake up feeling depleted emotionally and mentally. 

*Sleep disturbances happen a few times a night, mini nightmares as well.

*I feel trapped in a cycle of watching videos as a distraction 

*I generally feel half asleep and slightly uncomfortable throughout the day.

*The urge to play videogames or any other form of escapism skyrocket.

*impulsivity in general increases

*It takes a lot of effort to read longform posts, and those I don't immediately understand I give up on.

*My head feels like somebody lit my neurons on fire, they all feel tingly but thankfully there is no burning sensation

*Chocolate, Sweets, Carbs intake goes up a significant amount.

*Random emotional fluctuations, feeling the urge to cry for no reason at random times.


The strangest thing is for me and this might be why I never diagnosed myself with depression before this year is that I don't usually feel "bad". I don't feel guilty or like a burden. I love my family, I love my friends, and I am grateful for all the opportunities and the things I get to do in life. I got this way through gratefulness journaling and reading philosophy / this website. I recognize things are good for me, really good in comparison with most people. 

Using Scotts Dynamic Systems model of thinking

I think it's almost purely chemical for me, with the chemical problems popping up and building a wall in the middle of two attractor states which prevents me from moving from the depression attractor state to neurotypical attractor state. Chemical imbalances impose a hard limit on how far to the other attractor state I can get, while constantly trying to move me back to the bottom of the depression one. But through trying to be grateful for every tiny thing in my life and accepting my reality as is I move my emotional/cognitive variable towards the neurotypical attractor state (I think). But with the hard chemical limit imposed I can't go over the hump to get to the other side, this leads me to be as far towards the non depression attractor state as I can, and the competition forces cancel out, leading me to feel "eh" all the time.

I'm sure the reality of the situation is much more multivariable and complicated than that. But that is my current model of how my brain and "I" are battling now. Once again I am grateful for finding LessWrong and Scott Alexanders posts for giving a much better way to think about my problems.

This seems self-aware and accurate, and means you have a decent chance of being able to intervene and avoid going into a depressive state. The two things that sound particularly high leverage (and I believe tend to feature prominently in standard advice, because they tend to be key elements of self-reinforcing spirals) are sleep and diet. Especially the bit about checking for sleep apnea, if you haven't already.

Eating more sweets/carbs is a common depression failure mode, and people tend to respond by deciding that the carbs are bad, and trying to stop themselves from eating them. This is a mistake because what's actually going on is undereating of everything else; sweets make up the gap because they're very convenient, but the right intervention is to add more high-quality food until there's no appetite left for sweets.

Especially the bit about checking for sleep apnea

When I checked the list, I was like: well, most of this applies to me to some degree, too... except the part about nightmares... which I used to have a lot in the past, but I don't remember having them recently... probably since the time I took care of my sleep apnea. Correlation is not causation, but it is a hypothesis worth exploring. In hindsight it seems obvious: lack of oxygen -> heart beats faster -> dreaming brain "rationalizes" this as fear.

Those are good to know! Thanks!

I think I am approaching the end game of video gaming.

 I can scroll through Steam and GoG for hours while seeing nothing that slightly interests me. Every once and a while a great game comes and revolutionizes my experience with video games, but like riding a roller coaster its then hard to go back to the Farris wheel after and feel a rush, all games after are discounted on their novelty. The games that did that for me were the Pathologic "series" and Disco Elysium.  Yesterday was a bit different, I went on a site called and they have a lot of old / almost lost media games. I spent a good couple of hours browsing very old games, downloading them and then trying to get them to work. Most were broken and corrupt. But it was fun.

It wasn't the act of playing the games themselves, most were clunky and hardly working even if they did run, it was mostly finding the hidden games that was fun. I was playing a meta game around video-games. But in all reality it was just novelty seeking behavior, which kind of worries me.

I want to enjoy games and get involved in their stories, like books and movies they are a great medium to explore. Meta gaming ruins that by making it a dopamine seeking outlet only. 

I don't know how to solve this, I am thinking of two possible causes right now. 

1. My threshold for novelty is too high, I've seen so many ideas and visual artistry that for something to seem interesting it really has to differentiate itself.

2. My dopamine receptors are fried, I can't just pick a game due to opportunity cost and I seek a greater hit of dopamine from the other options I have.


This does sadly extend past video games, I'm picky with books, movies, art and videos I consume. It's useful somewhat for avoiding Sturgeons Law but it has it's cost of making me become stuck in ruts sometimes. I think that somewhat ironically having heavy novelty seeking behavior is reducing my opportunity to experience novel things.

I'm putting this here as a  "To Do" for my own thinking, hopefully solving this would help me experience better quality of life. 

I spent a good couple of hours browsing very old games, downloading them and then trying to get them to work. Most were broken and corrupt. But it was fun.

Are you familiar with eXoDOS? It's approximately 100GB torrent of 7000 games for MSDOS, configured to run out of the box -- the torrent includes a few clones of DOSBox and similar software, each game already comes with a configuration that works, also manuals and maps, you just download the huge thing, start the UI and play.

I used to play computer games when I was younger; now I have less time to play, and also it is less fun when I cannot fully focus on the game because there are all kinds of worries and interruptions that come with having a job and kids. So I can no longer be like "I am going to play this game until it is completed, even if it takes the entire weekend". But yes, there is also the part of "I have already seen most of it".

My dopamine receptors are fried, I can't just pick a game due to opportunity cost and I seek a greater hit of dopamine from the other options I have.

This sounds likely. Internet is insanely addictive.

When you play an old game now, it also misses the social aspect: no one else you know is playing it at the same time. So you can't discuss the game, can't compete, etc. Winning at something other people also care about was part of the fun.

But I think that at least 90% of the reason is internet. The vast amount of alternatives it provides (even if most of them are meh) makes it difficult to focus on one specific thing. Also, too many alternatives make it unlikely that you and your friends would choose the same thing.

At the start of this year I stopped playing video games except when in social situations. My hope for doing this was I would be able to study more without the distraction, and sometimes playing videogames encourages behavior that lead me to be more reclusive than I think is healthy for me.

This worked fine for the first two months, however the last two days have been really rough on my mental state. I found myself breaking down and playing video games last weekend. I was bummed. I planned to go a full year without doing that. But considering I am still alive to be bummed, things could always be worse.

I started think more about about. Was not playing videogames producing the behavior I wanted to see from myself? Maybe. 

I think I definitely have better study habits now, I worry more about the reclusive part but I think that could be solved with mandatory breaks every 30mins to an hour to think about what I could be doing different, and opportunities I could make. 

The biggest problem I have now with not playing videos games right now is I realized today I replaced them. I checked my YouTube recommend. Every single video, every one, had some tie in to video games. Weather it be reviews, clips, or streamers playing them. I wasn't getting away from video games at all. I had replaced playing them with watching other people play them. I created a videogame proxy. And I think that's even worse.

I spent almost all time on YouTube when I wasn't study, it was what I used for leisure. If that was all videogame videos (which it usually was), then I think I ended up sending more time on videogames than I did before. Which I think isn't good.

So I think I found a solution. I thought about it, and while I am uneasy about playing videogames again since I don't want to regress into being unproductive, I'm proposing I play them for a fixed amount of time per day as a trade.

I can play video games for an hour and half per day after my study timeclock is over, in exchange that every YouTube video I click on from now on can't be video game related. I'll start this this Wednesday at the soonest. Track how this works out for me for a month, and decide what changes need to be made. 

The media we consume have power effects on who we are. Considering I spend most of my time on YouTube, consuming all game news is essentially trapping me in only knowing gaming, despite me not playing them. This would hopefully allow me to find some of my other interests and become more well rounded, even if that means just replacing videogames with animal videos. Most of my life has sadly been gaming related, those would hopefully make me branch out more. I know I can't quit cold turkey, so here my attempts to iteratively improve myself on the margin.

lsuser had an interesting idea of creating a new Youtube account and explicitly training the recommendation system to recommend particular videos (in his case, music):

I guess you could also do it for Youtube channels which are informative & entertaining, e.g. CGP Grey and Kings & Generals. I believe studies have found that laughter tends to be rejuvenating, so optimizing for videos you think are funny is another idea.

>I'm proposing I play [video games] for a fixed amount of time per day as a trade.

I'll suggest doing this as a fixed amount of time on a weekly, not daily basis- some days the quota you set may be too high (because you've gotten really into some productive thing that you want to do more than play video games), other days it may be too low (because you just need time to chill out), and having a weekly quota of video games lets you adjust according to your mood on any given day.

That's a good idea, I'll try that.