Thursday, 11 April 2013

Being Unable to Value

A Note on Depression

Having depression is strange. It is likely the case that any mental illness will produce a breach in a person's sense of self, at least if they are self-aware enough to notice. What makes depression strange is that I find myself unable to value things. Or, more specifically, I am unable to trust my ability to value things. Because I am depressed I do not feel that many activities or goals are worth pursing. Activities that I may once have found satisfying no longer satisfy me. I suppose my seratonin levels are down. (I don't actually know that; I'm basing this on my rudimentary knowledge of psychology.) I am aware that my current feelings about certain things--for instance, my academic discipline, artistic endeavour, social encounters--are not the same as they would have been a year ago or will be a year from now. This puts me in a strange epistemological position; while I can trust my regular sensory and rational abilities (I'm not hallucinating or delusional), I cannot be sure my value judgements are accurate.

Because I cannot be sure what I will value in the future, I do not want to make many/any long-term decisions right now. In a lot of ways I have been stalling, waiting for treatment to start working before I look beyond my immediate treatment. However, I am reaching a place where I need to think about what my goals are. This period I am in is an opportunity to make changes in my life that will help me be a healthy, effective, and productive member of society. It seems I am in a bind: I find it difficult to make the value judgements that will be necessary for me to become mentally healthy again, which is a (perceived) requirement for making those value judgements.

In the last few years I have increasingly learned more about myself, a process which has made my own opacity to myself increasingly apparent. That is, by learning about myself, I realized that if I had anything to learn it must mean that I am ignorant about myself. Perhaps what is new is my realization that what I have to learn about myself is chronological as well as, say, unconscious. Being depressed has made very clear to me the fact that I am not who I was nor who I will be, and my decisions now will impact my life in the future. Normally I would see no problem in making those decisions according to my values in the present: I do not usually have a reason to suspect that my future values will be drastically different from my present values.  (I should clarify that I do not mean "values" in a moral sense but rather in the sense of gaining satisfaction from activities.) Right now, however, I do know that my future values will differ from my current ones. Further, those future values are inscrutable. Perhaps this bind is true at all times for all people, but it has only become apparent to me in these extraordinary circumstances.

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