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Skepticism as Survival

Content Warning: Suicide and depression discussion

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional, nor is this medical advice. If you are considering suicide, please call the (US) suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or the relevant hotline for your country.

For some people, skepticism is a hobby. For some it is a way of life.

For me, it is why I am alive.

Spoiler alert: I have depression. Or… I’m bipolar. Maybe. That’s what I take pills for, anyways, but who knows! The only conclusive diagnosis a doc has ever given me is “golly gee, you sure are a weirdo.” Okay, paraphrasing there, a little. But the point is, my brain is not as it should be by the standards of a neurotypical culture. Not by a long shot.

When you’re depressed, Skepticism becomes a lifesaving tool. The ability to not only think critically, but to acknowledge biases and think rationally in regards to what your brain is doing? Can help you out of some really sticky situations.

Something that people without depression often don’t understand is… what the hell we have so bad that we’re so depressed about it. This is where depressed people get really super mad, because it’s a complete misunderstanding of how depression is. Depression is not being sad in the way that non-depressed people are. Non-depressed people feel sad when bad things happen, with a sadness proportional to how bad the thing that happened was.

Depressed people… not so much. Some of us just feel sad for no reason. We seriously just wake up, and oh wow it’s time for crying. I don’t have a lot of experience with this, because my depression manifests in different ways. Instead of being made sad by sad things, I get made sad by happy things that my brain warps and gnarls into horribleness. Compliment me? My brain will start on an elaborate explanation for why the compliment you just gave me was actually an insult. “Hey, good job today,” actually means, “Hey, you’re so terrible at this that I feel the need to lie to you to make you feel better, maybe because you were slightly less terrible than your normal amount of ultra-terribility today. But probably just because you’re terrible. Terrible terrible. Terrible!”

On that same note, my reaction to things is totally out of whack. I’m going to sum this up by telling you that the first major nervous breakdown that lead me to a mental institution and eventually four long years of on-again off-again severe depression was triggered by the drain in my baththub being kind of leaky. And yes, it was a bit of a straw-that-broke-the-camel’s-back type of thing, but in the end my great undoing was triggered by a drain that made a slight hissing sound and drove me, literally, insane.

Just to illustrate how much we depressed folks can totally overreact to tiny little bad things with… nervous breakdowns.

But what does this have to do with skepticism? If you’re guessing that I’m going to say that we depressed folk can and should just logic ourselves out of being sad, well… I’ll just say that, were I to say that, the comment section would be full of a lot of incredibly angry depressed people. I would be one of them, agreeing with the incredibly angry depressed folk, wondering what the hell I was thinking. Because you can’t logic yourself out of depression and make yourself happy. Just like you can’t pull yourself up by your bootstraps that you don’t have. Because you have depression.

Logic and reason are still incredibly, incredibly valuable things to have in your arsenal. Not for every day depression and crying over trivial things, but for the dark side of depression that there really aren’t silly stories and jokes for.

When you’re suicidal, everything counts. But the ability to force yourself to think logically, even if you can’t make yourself un-suicidal or happy, is invaluable. You learn things about your depression when you have it. You learn to look at it from an outsider’s point of view, if you’re like me anyways. You learn how it works. And you learn that you can say things to yourself like, “Based on evidence from the past, you will feel better when you go to sleep and wake up. That is a real and tangible way of making yourself feel better that doesn’t hurt you. That is a way to keep yourself safe until you can think clearly. You aren’t thinking clearly now. Go to sleep.”

When you’re telling yourself that all of your friends hate you and don’t want to hear from you even when you’re suicidally depressed, when you’re trying to confirm your belief that your friends hate you with “evidence,” you have the same critical thinking skills you’ve used against creationists and woo-mongers to tell yourself that no, that isn’t all of your friends hating you, that’s confirmation bias. That’s quote-mining. That’s something, but it’s not what you think it is.

When you’ve made yourself a strong supporter of only doing things that make logical sense and are evidence based, that desire to stay true to yourself can save you. It isn’t perfect. No treatment or help for depression is perfect.

But sometimes it can help you just enough.

Featured image courtesy of Michaël Korchia on Flickr

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Kit "Grimalkin" Partin is an autistic genderqueer lesbian-boy-thing hailing from Dallas. He recently graduated from an online high school that he went to because his brain was so awesome it forgot how to not be depressed, and now he's pursuing a degree in art! He's a proud Atheism Plusser, and is working on an A+ non-profit. Here he is on twitter, facebook and that weird google+ thing he doesn't understand.

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