Perception Shifts

Some thoughts are so strongly automated, so seemingly separated from what we usually mean with personal volition, that I categorize them into perceptions; perceptions of thoughts, similar to perceptions of emotions, and perceptions of our senses. The passive, automated nature of those disguises the possibility to effect changes; and the subtle distinction between automated and “voluntary” thoughts sometimes masks changed perceptions as personal actions.

The disguise as “unalterable reaction” is a dangerous part when I fall into a depressive episode, and the illusion of personal agency in other situations has often led me into over-optimism. My mind is still able to pull that trick on me.

I think the mechanics of this is, in part, simple, and being aware of that might explain how I came to some of my less-widely shared opinions on the value of life.

Most experiences are forgotten soon, and sometimes a noteworthy situation goes down the drain as well. Because this automatic filtering uses criteria of “significance” different from my rational thought process, it is not unusual to suddenly realize that my interpretations of surroundings have drifted far since my last self-inspection.

For me this is of interest because me becoming depressed usually starts slow. I have a bad day. I oversleep, forget something important. Some programming task does not work out as well as I’d like. Everybody has a bad week once in a longer or shorter while, and the voice of the inner critic telling me that I should have performed better only seems natural.

The baseline just shifted; the thought I should have performed better is the natural and appropriate response. Previously I’d thought, “shit happens; try again”. The next time I might think others would have solved that problem by now, when a month ago I had said “my colleagues also failed to see any simple solution; that problem might actually be difficult”. The baseline has shifted again. They have already lost any respect in me, they likely think the company were better off without me.

Suddenly those changed perceptions are noticed: “Fuck, I just wasted a month, feel terrible, and have fed myself on alcohol and nuts the past two weeks.” The first such realization may trigger an appropriate response, but typically changes are temporary and switch direction for a few times. Unsurprisingly, this means that life gets worse before there is a realistic expectation of improvement.

I wrote about the zombie and the hate endpoint of such development. When luck is scarce it may happen that I only fully realize what is going on after I’ve already spent some time barely above that line of despair. Let’s play that game on nightmare level, with the left hand already cut off.

I’d like to emphasize that the thoughts that I am thinking at one end of this dimension do not even occur to me at the other end; my hopelessness, hate and arguments of my depressed state are barely comprehensible for me when I am happy, and my optimism and empathy is barely comprehensible when I’m depressed, if at all.

As such I can, somehow, relate to people who do not share my opinion about a life worse than death. But I do hope that it gently points into the mechanism on how personal experience might change your thinking, and your opinion, even if now you cannot imagine to ever reach such a conclusion.