Why Do I Care to Measure Depression

Strawman Steve: People want to be happy, but they don’t just want to be grinning like idiots all the time. what does happiness meannnnn, idk dude, we just can’t measure it. everyone’s life is basically the same.

me: No! This is wrong!

Steve: Well, some people’s are worse if they’re in war or poverty or abuse but otherwise basically the same.

me: What if you’re depressed?

Steve: Well, I guess that’s bad, but everyone’s got some problems, idk

me: What if you’re suicidal?

Steve: Yeah ok then I guess your life is bad, even if it looks ok on the outside.

me: so there’s “ok” (most people) and “suicidally depressed”, is there anything in between?

Steve: idk man, you just can’t measure happiness, like what do you want to do, sex drugs and rock and roll?

me: sigh

You can indeed measure life-goodness

Hmm I already posted this in Levels of Depression and Fast Forward Time, but to recap: at the end of a day, imagine you could decide to re-experience the day. (either you have your memory wiped, or you have another day that is different but just as good as the first day.) It’s free, you don’t age. Would you do it? How about at the end of the year, would you re-experience the whole year? If so, your day/year was good. If not, it wasn’t.

Dialing it up a bit: would you pay extra to re-live a day? Like, let’s say you could re-live today, but you’d have to sacrifice two days of your life. You go to bed Monday night, the next day you experience Monday2, then you wake up and it’s Thursday. If so, we could call that a +2 day. Or would you pay extra to avoid re-living a day? Like, you can either have Monday2 and then Tuesday, or not have Monday2 and wake up on Wednesday. If a day was that bad, that you’d sacrifice 2 days of your life not to re-live it, we could call that a -2 day. If you’re completely indifferent on whether you relive a day or not, call that a 0-day.

At time scales of a day, that doesn’t really reflect on your whole life. But if a year goes by and you had 100 -2-days, 260 0-days, and 5 +1-days, that’s a pretty miserable year. Or we could just look at the year: was it overall a +1, +2, -1, 0 year?

Why do I care?

T asked me this very good question: why am I going on about this?

It’s because life has been hard for no good reason and I’m embarrassed.1

We have one (1) baby right now, he’s healthy and happy and nice and sleeps pretty well now and I’ve been going on for a year and a half like I’m in one of the middle rings of Dante’s inferno. I should definitely be in the “it’s so magical” boat, at least by now.

On the one hand, dads get postpartum depression and maybe I did. And I think I’m a little autistic or something, or maybe a Highly Sensitive Person.

But man, I should be better at this! Autism/nerdiness? Even Scott Alexander (with twins!) is full of love. And I kinda don’t even think “Highly sensitive person” is a thing. Check out this Barnum test. Starts to feel like Internet mental health speak.

(While I was writing this, another another technology brother piped into my RSS reader to agree “it’s so magical." I just keep finding this stuff.)

Anyway, I know that I’m doing all right, but I think there’s a program or programs running in the background of my brain saying “If I could say I have Level 12 Depression, then everyone would agree that, yep, that’s unusually hard and that I am a mensch for even surviving.”

  1. I might be ashamed. I can’t always tell the difference. Nah, I think embarrassed. I haven’t done anything morally wrong, I just feel kind of weak. ↩︎

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