Aug 29, 2016

When akrasia crosses with depression

Sometimes I grow akratic – I just can't work. I want to, I've carved out the time, I have the tasks and tools at hand. But it doesn't happen. I read something interesting online. I get something to eat. I play a few rounds of counter-strike. I'm always just about to work, it's always the next thing on my plate, but I usually don't. I read another article, play another round of CS.

The akrasia isn't so bad by itself. Wasting time is pleasant: internet articles are interesting, counter-strike is fun. But when the akrasia gets crossed with depression – that's scary. That is dangerous ground. The depression tells me that I'm no good, was never any good, and won't be any good going forward. The akrasia provides the evidence. "Oh yeah, you were going to finish all your work, and then write that insightful blog post? Well it looks like you're just getting pwned on Office. You can't even play CS properly!"

Sometimes, when things get really dark, I'm able to pull myself out of it. I get upset at myself, fuming so that I can't even enjoying wasting time any more. Then I have to move, have to walk, have to be going somewhere, and if I'm lucky I'll be able to walk myself right into bed and fall asleep without difficulty. When morning comes I wake up feeling sharp and clean, and work will come easily when I attempt it.

That's if I'm lucky. But I'm rarely able to work myself into such pique. Instead, the depression and akrasia just float over me like a gray haze slowly thickening. Eventually it chokes out any enjoyment I was getting from the time-wasting, and I just sit there like a zombie, going through the motions, not getting any reward at all. No dopamine hit, no pleasure in the lizard brain, just moving forward by habit alone. That's the place I fear – it's a loss of will to act. And without the sensation of will, what am I? Just a piece of furniture. An office plant, shriveling up.

I'm waxing poetic. I don't want to wax poetic. I just want to write down what it feels like, what it is like. Maybe when I write it down accurately, I'll have some insight so that I don't go to that gray haze place anymore. Maybe when I review the accurate account, I'll see where I went wrong, what I have to do differently the next time. But that seems naïve.

My best guess is that this problem isn't going away, though it might be mitigated. I'm not going to stop having akratic periods. And I'm not going to stop having depressive episodes. Sometimes, the two will coincide. But when that happens, I can take care of myself. Even after walking deep into a black tunnel, I can turn around. I might be a worthless scumbag, true enough, but I'm a worthless scumbag that will have a sunnier opinion of itself in the morning. I almost always have enough cogency to acknowledge that things will be different in the morning. So I can keep that in mind, as best I am able.

I don't think there is anything profound about the dark place I go to when depression and akrasia intersect. It certainly feels profound when I'm there, in some vague way, but on reflection that feeling is baseless. It's just another place, another mood, another state of being. It doesn't deserve a privileged position in my consciousness.

[rereads: 2, edits: tightening up phrases]