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Reflections From a Psychiatric Clinic: Part II

by Niklas Haas on August 18, 2020

Tagged as: depression, personal, feelings, life.

Is there a difference between having empathy and wanting to fake empathy? Am I not just trying to be nice because I’m trying to fit into society? I’m scared. Scared of becoming my old self again. I’m scared of feeding my ego. I need to install some safety mechanisms. Need to get better at reading the mood. How can I tell if I’m being annoying if people won’t tell me? I refuse to believe their lies.

“It’s fine”, “stop worrying about it.”
Lies, lies, damned lies. You’re just too scared to say what you think. We all are. Maybe I should build that into my assumptions again. I’m supposed to put myself into the role of others. Would I find myself annoying? Yes, yes I would. But then again, we’re annoyed by what reminds us of ourselves. We’re our own harshest critics, after all. So, logically, others should find us less annoying.

Why am I so afraid of being annoying? Is this even still about being worried nobody will find me attractive? Or am I still trying to process guilt? Is my guilt even real, or did I convince myself that I should feel guilty in order to make myself seem more human? Am I still trying to fake it until I make it?

Fearing my own growing social self-confidence. This was in the context of realizing that I use my inner critic to temper my outer critic, and my outer critic to temper my inner critic - the two always being at odds with each other. “Either I’m a pile of garbage, or everybody else.” Which reality am I more comfortable accepting? On that note, I think the resolution is astoundingly simple: This is a false dichotomy. The reality is that we’re all piles of garbage, which makes being a pile of garbage okay to be.

How do I see and like myself the most?

Oh, this one’s easy. I like seeing myself as the.. “oracle”, I guess. The one you ask to provide insight. I like helping other people analyze their problems, and doing so by trying to provide some sort of “novel” perspective. I tend to only speak when I feel like I can add something non-trivial or interesting to a discussion. Obvious trivialities and banal things like “preferences” need not be communicated, no?

It makes me happy when people come to me for advice, and I do my best to be sage in my response. Partly, it’s the part of my heart speaking that wants to be an engineer. The only way to solve difficult problems, after all, is to creatively frame them in some novel perspective. A different way of looking at the same thing. This passion flows through my blood, inspiring me to try and be this version of myself.

In the (paraphrased) words of a master infinitely wiser than myself, “think in controversies, but dare not speak them.” Consensus is dangerous, it limits your worldview and locks you into irrelevance. Strive to be different.

Which strength would I like to have more of?

Tough one. I’m half-tempted to say “empathy”, but that’s a short-sighted answer. Thinking in terms of the mold. No, the proper answer is “curiosity”. An irresistible appetite to explore. Curiosity is humanity’s greatest strength by far. Evolution’s secret weapon. Why rely on natural selection and genetic mixing to painstakingly archive information when you can just create us, a species of hairless apes with a thirst for knowledge so great that we’ll stop at no atrocity to accelerate towards the singularity?

When what motivates you is sheer curiosity, no hurdle is too great to overcome - no problem unsolvable. Curiosity unites us, attracts us, excites us. We as a species hold manifestations thereof in the highest esteem. No honor, no legacy greater than those awarded to legends whose only motivation was a will to discover.

Which “feel good” scent invokes positive memories for you?

Scents. Hmm. Tricky question. Scents in particular are fascinating. They bypass our filters. Go straight to our subconscious. Influence us in subtle ways. Which scents do I respond do?

Vanilla is an obvious answer, merely because I love it. But a more nuanced answer ought to be the scent of snow. Playing in the winter without a care in the world. Freedom. Silence. Gentleness. Snow is the scent of harmony. Of peace. Of liberation. The relaxing, oft melancholic end of a tumultuous year. The onset of something new, a sight to soothe sore eyes as it gently embraces the earth, smothering it with a blanket of cold, indiscriminate love.

Yes, the scent of snow brings joy to my jaded heart.

Who influences you positively?

Dan. Though he’d hate to hear himself called by that name. His presence in my life has been a powerful one, his influence on my thoughts an intriguing one, and his friendship one of freedom. Gone are the days of feeling misunderstood. He gets me, on a level few can. And I feel his philosophy twisting my perception of reality. I summon him in my mind when I need an open ear, a curious observer, or a brutal critic.

Vincent. Or should I call him wm4? He taught me vigilance, self doubt, and honest criticism. Without him I would be a fraction of the programmer I am. Let it never be said that the Torvalds approach to feedback is destructive. On the contrary, it’s the most aggressively constructive approach one can take!

Emma. For teaching me that mistakes are okay, and that wicked acts without wicked intent deserve to go unpunished. For motivating me to strive to be a better version of myself. For forgiving me when I most needed to forgive myself.

Josh. For helping me let go of nonsensical “feel good” approaches to problem solving, and inspiring me to see the world as a machine to be understood and solved. For giving me the courage to let go and admit to myself the type of insane I am, without shame.

My family. For refusing to give up on me, even past the point of absolute absurdity.

And finally, you. My dear reader. For helping me understand that I’m never alone, even after I’ve shown my truest colors in all their pathologic glory.

Which people and events from your childhood gave you strength?

My father has no doubt left a very strong mark on me. He taught me the pleasure of pursuing knowledge. The importance of critical thinking. He taught me skepticism, manipulation, self-defense. He protected me from my adversaries, the way he had to protect himself. Even though this method of self-defense has left its own wounds, I’m grateful for the damage he prevented. He encouraged me to follow my passions. Gave me the means to pursue my ends.

Meanwhile, my mother was there to pick me up when my emotions got the better of me. When my desperate grasping for the rays of the setting sun left me alone in the dark.

My brother, and cousin, for nudging me in the direction of programming - mankind’s final pursuit on its journey towards the singularity.

I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to learn the language of science. Grateful for having been introduced to the wonderful world of books. Being introduced to heroes such as Hawking. Even though we will never meet, thanks to the magic of language, their spirit lives on in me.

And, of course, the internet. It’d be impossible for me to list the entire range of experiences and insights I’ve been fed by this unending wellspring of knowledge.

My therapist gave me the “homework assignment” to write responses to a series of questions, designed to help me reflect on myself. The most interesting thing I learned is how much internal competition I feel between the different parts of myself. I have to consciously decide to which one I want to hand over the pen.