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The Problem (TM) - Analyse a conversation

-6 Post author: Elo 26 July 2016 11:03AM

Originally published here: http://bearlamp.com.au/the-problem-tm-analyse-a-conversation/
Part 2: http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/nt8/the_problem_tm_part_2/
Part 2: http://bearlamp.com.au/the-problem-analyse-a-conversation-part-2/

I had a chat with a person who admitted to having many problems themselves.  I offered my services as a problem solving amateur, willing to try to get to the bottom of this.  Presented is the conversation (With details changed for privacy).

I had my first shot at analysing the person's problems and drilling down to the bottom.  I am interested in what other people have to say is the problem.  Here we study the meta-strategy of how to solve the problem, which I find much more interesting than the object level analysis of the problem and how to solve it.

I don't think I got to the bottom of the problem, and I don't think I conducted myself in a top-notch capacity but needless to say I wonder if you have any comments about what IS TheProblem(tm), how did you come to that conclusion and what can be done about it (for the benefit of this person and anyone with a similar problem).


Zebra
Hey

ELiot
Where would you like to start?
Do you want to share about your history?

Zebra
I was previously very depressed, and then recovered for a few years. While I'm glad I was able to have those couple years, I don't think they were worth suffering through the depression, and I didn't at the time, when I didn't think it would return.

Zebra
(Though it hasn't returned as bad as it was.)

ELiot
So you are currently feeling depressed

Zebra
Yes. Possibly as a symptom of bipolar disorder (I've recently started having manic episodes), or possibly not--I've never been diagnosed with that, and until recently had never had issues with mania.

ELiot
How much are you sleeping? One Indication of bipolar swings is total sleep

Zebra
The last couple days I've slept okay, but when I had more manic symptoms sleep was very intermittent. A few weeks ago I punched a housemate in the face ten times, breaking her nose; at that point, I'd not slept in two days.

ELiot
Sounds like a bad event.

Zebra
I guess immediately I feel quite isolated, very stressed, and don't know how to proceed forward.

ELiot
Is there a specific stress?

Zebra
I guess; loneliness, numerous tensions with my girlfriend, some financial issues (to a large extent a symptom of the recent mania), extreme dissatisfaction with myself and especially my own appearance, frustrations with daily life, and a general dissatisfaction with the world.

ELiot
Manic up should correlate with little sleep, manic down with extra sleep. Manic up should also come with a variation on _feeling invincible_

Which of the things in that list do you think can't change?

Zebra
I suppose they're all changeable if you apply enough effort, but that seems like a lot of work, and frankly I've never seen much in the world that seems worth it.

As I said, I've gotten better, to some extent, previously.

Even after I had already gotten better and I no longer wanted to suicide, I wished I had previously, because even though life then was fine, it just wasn't worth what had gone before.

I don't feel invincible really.

ELiot
When in manic up states?

Zebra
When in manic states I still don't feel invincible.

ELiot
If you could remove the problems listed do you think you would want to live?

Zebra
All of them? Yes, if I could do some magically, or at a reasonable cost.

ELiot
I would say that is a good thing. But it depends on your goals.

I can offer ideas about working with those problems to make them better, but not if you don't want that.

Zebra
Well those would be good.

ELiot
Would you like to pick a specific one from the list to talk about?

I can pick one if you like

Zebra
Uhm, you can pick. I'm not sure which one would be most imminently solvable.

ELiot
I am going to write the list out

1. Loneliness
2. Girlfriend tension
3. Financial issues
4. Self + appearance
5. Daily life
6. Dissatisfied with the world

Zebra
Yep, that's most of it.

ELiot
What burdens do you currently have on your life? I. E. Supporting a child, have to show up at work each day. Etc.

Thinking about number 5 - Regular commitments

Zebra
Not a whole lot really. I've no job or school (family money, though not a large amount). My girlfriend is financially dependent on me at this point, though she's supposed to be starting a job this month.

To be honest even going downstairs to buy food, or really even to talk to a delivery person on the phone, feels like a huge burden.

ELiot
So in terms of pressure on your daily life?

Zebra
I often find myself not eating until nighttime, or sometimes not eating at all, due to wanting to avoid those stressors.

ELiot
Is that bad?

Zebra
Well, yeah. It feels very negative and causes me stress and I really don't feel life has much to offer in return for even minor inconveniences.

ELiot
is there a reason that not eating is a bad thing to do for you?

Zebra
I don't see life as particularly positive, really, and just want it to be over with so I don't have to bother with this crap every day. On the other hand, actually going about killing yourself is fucking scary.

So I guess I'm trying to find some way out of that conclusion so I won't have to face the immediately distasteful action of actually offing myself, even though it's probably preferable to suffering through a lifetime of even minor annoyances.

ELiot
Is this correct: you feel stressed about not wanting to leave to go buy food. Then you feel stressed about not buying food as well.

Zebra
Yes.

And I guess I'm kind of lonely, and even minor inconveniences, when they have no positive aspects in between, eventually get you really, really down.

I feel like what I do most days is just wait, be sad and lonely, be slightly annoyed, and wait and cry and be lonely more.

When I go out sometimes it's ok, and sometimes I realise the people around me are crap and I am too and I get even sadder.

ELiot
Here is how I see this very limited problem. Without looking at other things just yet.

When making the first choice, either stay home and not buy food or leave and buy food you choose the less stress option. To stay home. I see that as a win. You successfully made the right choice to avoid the immediate stress. Then later you decide that going out is more important/useful/(Less stress) than staying home and not having food. Seems like you also win by carrying out the choice to leave and get food have less stress.

You appear to be stressing yourself out over two reasonable choices. I would suggest that you have done well to make both the choice of staying home and later the choice to leave for food.

Zebra
The stress of not going is physiological rather than psychological, so I don't think looking at that differently can really fix it.

And really I don't want to be staying at home, as that's also very stressful.

I'm just not sure what else to do...

ELiot
In terms of where to go? Or in terms of how to spend your time?

Zebra
Both

There's nothing much I can identify that I really want to do.

ELiot
I can suggest options down those paths

Zebra
ok.

ELiot
I don't know where you are gegraphically, but if we consider specifically where to go and what to do near where you are;

I would look at; google, "things to do in *city*" as well as looking at meetups in city. As well as looking for parks, museums, monuments, walks, local history, pretty geography, public spaces I. E. Libraries, evening classes, sports to play

Zebra
I'm in Hong Kong.

I go to meetups sometimes.

ELiot
Generally the idea of exploration of the place

Also temples, religious places, hikes

Zebra
As for meetups, sometimes you meet interesting people, but often it's stressful dealing with idiots. And most people are idiots.

ELiot
You are mostly allowed to do what you like with your time. In terms of going places and later going home to sleep etc.

A large fraction of people are idiots

Zebra
And the more interesting people are often difficult to connect with more than superficially.

ELiot
"Allowed to" is a funny idea. No one needs to give you permission to do what you like.

Going to add 7. Social strategy

Zebra
True. I just don't feel like I _like_ much.

Also I'm frequently very exhausted, and it's often hard to work up the energy to do those things.

ELiot
Do you think you have tried to find many things you like or do you think the bottle neck lies before that? In trying to find them?

If you do nothing (because you are tired) is that a problem?

Zebra
Yeah, doing nothing all the time sucks. If I stay home I feel like I'm in jail...

but if I go out I feel like I've been sent as a labourer to Australia.

ELiot
At some point the desire to stay home because you are tired should weigh up against the desire to go out and feel like you are not in jail. That is a fine time to leave, feeling bad about both staying at home and leaving the house sounds like a recipe for displeasure either way... Does that make sense?

Zebra
Well it is, obviously, which is why I feel like I'm in a no-win situation, and want to die.

(or at least part of it)

I mean, occasionally there are meetups and stuff which I go to, and those are ok, but really I have so much free time and since my mental health issues started I've alienated almost everyone I knew.

And that just increases the stress and makes it difficult to make new friends.

ELiot
I would be going down the path of tracing that feeling of bad to its source because it's not really about staying or going it's about that bad pressure that appears self imposed.

Do you feel like you _should be doing_ things?

I.e. Going out

Zebra
Well, I really dislike being alone, but I don't much like most people.

I think that's what it boils down to.

And yes, I get that that might not be a healthy state to be in, but again, that I'm not in a healthy state has already been established.

ELiot
Do you know what part or kind of social interaction you like? When you say "dislike alone" what is "not alone"

Zebra
Well, I like talking with friends and drinking and doing stuff, but often it's difficult to make new friends.

ELiot
Conversation with new people is "not alone"

And you sometimes feel alone when you hang around old friends

Zebra
Yes, that's true.

ELiot
Can you financially afford to go drinking and doing stuff?

Zebra
I guess new people I meet are often very disappointing, and more than that, even when they aren't, I myself have a lot of recently developed mental issues it takes a lot of effort to control.

I kind of zone out, frequently. People find that scary.

ELiot
What kind of new people would you like to meet?

Zebra
Uhm, I dunno. It's hard to specify really.

ELiot
Is your zoning out actually absence or is it more like daydreaming?

Zebra
Absence

Or sometimes I just sort of feel sad.

But usually no internal thoughts associated.

I can sort of afford to go drinking and stuff.

ELiot
Do you recall things that happen while you are absent?

Zebra
Mostly not. I can sort of remember it happening but super vague.

ELiot
Do you feel like you are an automa - following a path you were on, and then you zone back in?

Zebra
It's not like in the middle of a sentence, but people notice that I look dead and then sometimes I don't respond until they call me a couple times, though sometimes I can respond immediately.

More like my energy's just gone, I guess.

Sometimes I'll lose track of the conversation, even when I myself am speaking.

That's not as common recently, though.

ELiot
I was going to say I suspect an absent seizure. It came up in the lw open thread this week. Let me get you a link

Zebra
My mother claims I told her I was hospitalised for a head injury around the time my mental health problems started worsening.

I can't remember the incident, though, and she has not much in the way of specific details.

ELiot
http://lesswrong.com/r/discussion/lw/niv/open_thread_apr_18_apr_24_2016/d8ow

If you have something like that I am sure it makes everything worse

Zebra
I had depression before that, but as I said, it had mostly gotten better. On the other hand, there were a lot of issues in my life around the same time which may have led to the recurrence of symptoms as well.

ELiot
Okay, what kind of person would you like to meet?

Zebra
Hmm, previously I wanted to see a neurologist because my symptoms were much worse, but they've lessened now.

ELiot
There is medication to reduce seizures to nearly nothing

Which might help

Zebra
Well, an intelligent person, but those are rare; or someone who's fun, but finding one who's willing to put up with my lethargy and depression is hard; or someone who's nice and not a complete idiot.

ELiot
It also might help to keep a diary of what you do each day to try to keep track of how often they happen

Zebra
Maybe. I'm not at all certain I'm having seizures, though.

I have pretty bad memory, too.

ELiot
Where might you find intelligent people?

A brain scan would tell you if you are or are not having seizures

Zebra
I have no idea. I guess some of the intellectually-focused meetup groups have some, but not all that many.

Yeah, I've been meaning to go to a neurologist, but I frequently fail to get around to stuff.

ELiot
I would suggest university campus as a viable place

To find smart ones

Zebra
Maybe, but I'm not in university and probably don't have the effort to enter.

Also, somewhat smart, but not very smart, people really annoy me.

Universities have a lot of those.

ELiot
Campuses here are just places you can walk into, not sure what it's like there

If you want to get out of the house and see something, universities are a nice place to visit

Zebra
Hmm, I guess I could try.

Many offer classes to the public very cheaply.

ELiot
You can probably also work out how to sneak into a lecture anyway - they usually don't check the roll

Any topic of study fancy your interest? To sneak into a lecture about

Zebra
Hmm, not sure. Linguistics or history might be fun.

CS would probably just be a recap of basic material.

ELiot
You can usually find course details online and work out where the lectures are and just kinda walk in and sit down - For a bit of fun

Zebra
How does that translate to meeting people though?

(If it's not obvious, I've never been to uni.)

ELiot
Chat to people if you want to. Lectures have breaks, uni tries to encourage social groups too usually, barbecues and stuff

If you make yourself look approachable and friendly people will talk to you. It's how I avoid approaching others. I wear funny hats and strangers talk to me

Zebra
Really? Haha, what sort of hats?

ELiot
Pirate hat, top hats, Stetson,

I have about 50 hats

Different ones all the time

That's on the topic of appearance tho

Zebra
I don't look very approachable now :( Since I became ill again my personal health and hygeine have done very poorly.

ELiot
Do you like being hygienic? Indifferent?

Zebra
Well, I like being hygenic, but getting to that state is difficult.

Also, I've probably gained 40kg since then, so even if I was it's probably all for naught.

ELiot
What contributes to that state? For me it's having a shower and brushing my teeth.

Maybe deodorant too. And clean clothes

Zebra
Well, those things.

Now I've got so fat it's hard to buy clothes :-/

ELiot
I would say you can work on that

Both the fat and the clothes

If you want to

Exercise would help you, leaving the house to go for a walk would help you, you don't need anywhere to go other than around a block or something

Do you track your weight?

Zebra
Yes, but it's very difficult.

ELiot
Is it still climbing or staying where it is?

Zebra
I've tried some stuff. Fasting, methamphetamine, etc., but I was never able to really reduce it.

ELiot
Difficult to track? To walk? To exercise? To buy clothes?

Weight loss is difficult, Yes

Zebra
I just don't have the energy to excercise. Even when I was taking methamphetamine I didn't have the energy for it.

ELiot
Would you consider paying for a service that helped you lose weight?

Zebra
Right now I think it's not climbing, but I didn't buy a new scale when my last one broke.

Yes, if I thought it had reasonable chance of being effective.

ELiot
An option would be to look at what is available

Near to where you live

Zebra
I don't think there are any drugs that work as well for weighy loss as meth, though, and that was not effective enough.

I don't know what else such a service could provide really.

I mean, I _know_ you need to excercise and eat healthy, but I just haven't been able to do it.

ELiot
Commitment, a gym, a trainer setting a program

There are greater experts in the field of weight loss than I

Zebra
Honestly, I've tried so much, I do not realistically think I would continue to follow through with that.

ELiot
Okay

Zebra
Other than the very deepest depths of depression (which I still haven't fallen to this time around), I've never experienced anything as unpleasant as excercise.

ELiot
I can offer ideas about weight loss and exercise but maybe another time.

What types of exercise?

Zebra
I suppose there are some illnesses which might do better than meth, but trying to induce those makes me feel very squeamish.

Pretty much anything.

It'a just so hot and icky and tiring.

ELiot
Oh! Yes, a problem with your geography

Other geographies are not as hot and sticky. Even that has solutions. My exercise is walking, running, swimming, unicycle, circus skills, rock climbing, ice skating, laser tag, and trampoline, I also did pole dance for a while. Also I would kayak and hike more if I had more opportunities...

Zebra
True. I had some fun doing outdoor type stuff in the Southwestern US.

Moving has its own host of problems, though.

ELiot
Other sports I have done include table tennis, actual tennis, archery...

Zebra
The primary one being that I don't know anyone anywhere else.

ELiot
I don't imagine moving will solve all your problems

Zebra
Except my mother in Florida, USA.

ELiot
Yes I was going to say, it would certainly make loneliness harder

Especially when you don't currently know how to make new friends very well

You can exercise at night, find an indoor pool to swim in maybe.

Zebra
Yes. I did the moving thing once, and it was probably good at the time, but I had fairly exceptional circumstances then which I don't have now.

There's a pretty nice pool in my condo, but I get tired. Swimming is exhausting.

And very self-conscious doing excercise around others.

ELiot
Yes.

Zebra
That's probably equally as serious an issue as the exhaustion.

ELiot
Night time for self conscious

Take a friend or girlfriend?

Moral support?

Zebra
Makes me more self conscious :(

ELiot
You need support network not criticism

Do you trust these people?

Do you think you could track how far you swim and try to increase laps or so?

The idea being to measure progress and feel like you are going somewhere

Zebra
I don't think I've ever actually trusted anyone, even as a child.

ELiot
That is a different problem

Zebra
Yeah. I have a lot of problems. :(

ELiot
That is okay for a place to be

Better to know than not know.

To be more specific you have a lot of problems *at the same time*

Which is making it hard to work out what the biggest one is, and where to start

Zebra
Yes. That kind of sucks.

ELiot
It appears that at the bottom of each problem there is a slightly different problem, also with a solution but one that too needs implementation

I am confident that this can all be fixed, I am also confident that you can enjoy the journey of doing so.

Perhaps you might benefit from writing down the problems until you have a clearer picture for yourself

Zebra
Yes, that's how it feels to me too. There's a large web of problems which are fixable with enough effort, but inter-related so hard to fix one at a time, and I don't really feel like I have the effort to do it all at once, nor that it would be worth it.

ELiot
As you talk to me you are clarifying the problems, I imagine that can help to identify them to help solve them.

If I were in your position I would pick the first one that I encountered and try to make a little progress on it before the next one hit me, and trying to make progress on the next one too.

I firmly believe in the concept of _making it easier for future you_.

Zebra
Sometimes I feel that all of them could be fixed in one go with a more radical change, but that's a rather scary thing to do.

ELiot
It is. Especially without experience in radical changes.

Zebra
Well, I moved alone to a country I'd never been when I was 18. So I guess it's not entirely unfamiliar.

ELiot
A change of scenery would probably change the problems. Not necessarily fix them

Zebra
Yeah.

ELiot
It could be the motivation you need to help make it easier for you to make progress

But it could also leave you exhausted and worse off

Zebra
I've looked some into moving to the Republic of Georgia.

But I do have friends here, even if there are only a few remaining and I feel increasingly alienated from them.

ELiot
You might benefit from a time management system

Zebra
Why? I don't have enough to even fill one activity per day...

ELiot
A list of problems, followed by a list of ways to solve the problems followed by a plan of how to spend your next 168 hours towards solving those problems while also not making new ones...

Each week

Energy limited? That's also a problem. With a solution. You do need sleep and rest

Zebra
I usually sleep a lot, but it doesn't feel restful.

I try to go on holidays, but again, usually come back more stressed than before.

ELiot
That too has a solution. Are you getting enough light when you wake up?

Zebra
I typically keep the blinds closed.

I don't like light :(

ELiot
Bright light when you wake up will help you feel awake more. Only when you wake up.

Zebra
But then what do I do?

ELiot
Pick something you want to change and go for it.

The strategy of: "Try X"

It might help to have a notebook paper trail of ideas you have tried

Or thoughts you have had about each problem and how to solve it

Zebra
Most of the things I want to change are hard to change, computer related (and this not really helpful to not feeling terrible and alone), or things I don't have a good plan for how to change.

ELiot
You have as much to do as you want to. You can make a plan.

Zebra
I guess if I did something computer related it could make money, maybe, but I'd still feel awful. In the longer term it may be helpful, but I've tried this before and it is difficult to not get depressed and quit to go cry all day after 30 minutes.

ELiot
Even the meta strategy of "trying to plan" can help

You should write down that idea

It also seems like you apply pressure and expectations above what you have evidence of yourself being capable of.

Zebra
The idea of trying to plan, or?

ELiot
Yes and the "computer thing" idea

You should update on the estimation of your capabilities to be more of a reflection on what you have recently observed you are able to do

Zebra
I have a lot of computer thing ideas. I know pretty specifically how to do them, but sitting it down and typing it out is harder.

Well, I can walk to 7/11 if I put a lot of effort into it.

That's about it...

ELiot
Which is a way of saying to start small. Reset from the beginning (which is not easy)

Zebra
That doesn't seem helpful.

ELiot
That's what your baseline is

Anything upwards is now impressive.

Including this conversation

You have come a long way already

Zebra
Doesn't feel like it. Starting from walking to 7/11 sounds kind of exhausting and not very enjoyable.

ELiot
But that's where you are right now

I would say try habit RPG, but I never found it useful to me

Zebra
Yeah, but I mean, back on to the original point, all this seems much harder than trying to work through my hangups about suicide.

ELiot
Possibly, Yes.

All these problems are solveable, But perhaps

What about the possibility of solving the most immediate discomfort at any time?

What is the most immediate discomfort right now?

Zebra
I feel stressed about life being shit generally, I guess.

Which is generally how I feel when I have nothing specific to be stressed about.

ELiot
What can you do about that right now? How can you make life less generally shit for the you that lives 10 minutes in the future?

Or maybe make yourself feel less stressed about it

Zebra
I guess I could try to do some meditation. That used to work, but hasn't been so much recently.

For the stress part, at least.

I have no idea how to make life immediately less crap in the next ten minutes.

ELiot
I would suggest your environment or hygiene

As they are usually quick low hanging ideas.

Zebra
What sorts of things are you thinking of specifically with regard to those that could be accomplished within 10 minutes?

ELiot
A shower, a little cleaning up your space, changing clothes

Taking out the trash

Zebra
I guess that's doable.

Zebra
Welp, done that. I suppose I do feel mildly better...

ELiot
That particular strategy is called success spirals. Successfully doing a thing to help the you of the future slightly. One bit at a time.

I should add - if you want to talk about death we should have that talk too

Death, dying, pain

Zebra
Well, death seems somewhat scary in the immediate sense.

Especially death by falling, which is the most low-effort solution for someone living in a high rise building.

ELiot
You need at least 10 floors to be confident of a sudden death

Zebra
More high-effort strategies, like pentobarbital or such, seem more palatable, but not quite as immediately actionable.

I'm on the tenth floor, and I think there's 20 something.

ELiot
And it depends whether you want to impact others I. E. Seeing you fall and or the body

Zebra
I don't really care, though obviously I wouldn't want anyone seeing me "on the ledge" if I couldn't go through with it.

OTOH, nighttime is a thing.

ELiot
Yes

Zebra
But it's ... scary.

Have you ever been with someone during suicide?

ELiot
No, I recently discouraged someone from taking action in person. They were making rash decisions at the time

Zebra
Ah

ELiot
At least 3 people in my life have come close. They are not all better yet, still in limbo of up and down

I would still encourage you to do the things that you want. Have you read the guilt series by nate soares?

Zebra
No. What is it about?

ELiot
Why we have guilt and defeating it where it's not appropriate

Zebra
I don't think I experience a significant amount of guilt.

ELiot
Guilt in the sense of, "should be going out" but "should stay in". The conflicting desire of parts of you to do different things. And sorting it out
Zebra
Ah, hmm

I will read the Guilt series then...

ELiot
I also went through a period of time when I felt purposeless, I described it as, "everything is meaningless" and it's bothering me. As distinctly different to, "everything is meaningless and it doesn't matter"

Zebra
Everything being meaningless doesn't bother me. I don't think meaningfulness is a possible thing in any universe. Everything being shitty and empty bothers me, but that's rather different.

http://mindingourway.com/dont-steer-with-guilt/ <- this?

ELiot
Yes, but that's the middle of the series, better to start in the beginning

http://mindingourway.com/guilt/

That's the table of contents

Zebra
Hmm, it's a pretty good read.

------------------------------------ Later in time...............
Zebra
Finished it. It was long!

I liked it more than Eliezer's writing. It may even have been potentially useful irl, maybe.

ELiot
do you think you can apply things to your life?

Zebra
Maybe. I've been trying to do the breaking things up part.

I made a small amount of money with stupid computer things... I guess that's a modicum of progress, maybe.

I liked the last part about changing goals. That might be useful.

Visualising bad things seems like a potentially helpful strategy as well.

Zebra
A lot of the techniques do seem effective. Hopefully it will make a positive difference.

---------------------A long time later--------------
ELiot
hey

I promised to get back to you.

how are things?

Zebra
Hi

ELiot
it's been a while..

Zebra
I'm doing somewhat better. Got on meds for bipolar disorder, which has helped a lot.

Yeah. Been trying to actually do things now, so I feel less stagnant.

ELiot
Oh! great!

Zebra
Hopefully life will end up in a better place than before.


The Problem TM

What is actually the problem?  I have a theory, but I also wanted to publish this without declaring my answer.  I will share my ideas in a few weeks but I want to know what you think and how you came to that answer.


Meta: this conversation happened over 6 months ago, this took 2 hours to collate, tidy and publish.

Originally published here: http://bearlamp.com.au/the-problem-tm-analyse-a-conversation/

Comments (28)

Comment author: Lumifer 26 July 2016 02:41:40PM 5 points [-]

A few weeks ago I punched a housemate in the face ten times, breaking her nose;

So, why isn't he in jail? or that's considered to be a normal interaction in his social circles?

Comment author: Elo 26 July 2016 11:25:10PM -2 points [-]

So, why isn't he in jail?

I don't know, but I suspect it might be reasonable to assume that someone has to press charges in order for someone else to be prosecuted. Given that Z speaks of no repercussions, I was willing to assume that there was a greater context to the argument.

It was certainly quoted as "abnormal behaviour"by Z. But I also consider it a particularly "baiting" description of the event. Where a more reasonable version might exist including both parties being engaged in an exchange.

Comment author: Dagon 26 July 2016 09:47:37PM 3 points [-]

What is actually the problem?

There are lots of problems. If I had to pick only one, it would be that you seem to think there is a single, simple problem that can be identified from this transcript.

Comment author: Elo 26 July 2016 11:25:39PM -2 points [-]

How would you have this conversation? Where would you have asked other questions differently to what I asked?

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 28 July 2016 01:34:30PM 2 points [-]

I'd say the problem is that Zebra was extremely bad at imagining good outcomes in a way which led to him taking action-- in other words, probably depression. There's a sort of bipolar which looks a lot like depression because the manic phase is very small, but it has to be identified accurately because depression meds don't work for it.

Part of Zebra's problem was that he was punishing himself for not being more active, and I think you did good work defusing that part of the logjam.

I'm not sure how I came to that conclusion-- the pattern seemed very obvious to me.

I'm also concerned about him assaulting someone. I might have brought up the circumstances to see whether his thought processes which led to it could be avoided. It's not clear to me whether his girlfriend and his roommate are the same person. If he assaulted someone who was financially dependent on him, the lack of sequelae that he noticed doesn't mean it was no big deal.

Comment author: [deleted] 27 July 2016 10:00:15PM 1 point [-]

Why all these downvotes? Downvoters, you realise you are the reason people continue to leave LessWrong and you're killing this place.

Comment author: buybuydandavis 28 July 2016 12:38:28PM 6 points [-]

I considered downvoting. I opted instead to ignore after reading the preamble, which told me nothing but

I talked to a guy about solving his problem. I don't think it worked. Tell me if you have an interesting insight.

while taking 3 paragraphs to do it, with page after page after page of dialogue following,

I'm generally for letting anyone share what they have to share, but the tone of the preamble screams of low budget wannabe internet crank [TheProblem(tm), among other issues of tone] , and given that many have a greater signal to noise threshold than I do, I suspect the downvotes were responses to having their crank detector pinged.

I struggled with responding to this, as I don't want to discourage people generally from sending in even the half baked, but this kind of thing also makes people leave LessWrong.

Comment author: Elo 01 August 2016 04:58:43AM -2 points [-]

Thanks for the feedback; I guess I have to work out how to tone down the "crank". I kind of have a sense of what you mean by that concept, but I have a habit of leaving a bit of it in there. I will try to strip it out more in future.

Comment author: entirelyuseless 28 July 2016 03:02:13AM 0 points [-]

While I don't think Eugene is the only one doing this anymore (I doubt he was the one who did it to me, for example), I do think Eugene may have realized that very thing, and it may have become his only real motivation: a way to get his revenge.

Comment author: John_Maxwell_IV 28 July 2016 11:59:35AM -2 points [-]

Disable downvoting then?

Comment author: gjm 31 July 2016 09:33:22PM -1 points [-]

Elo, what is the advantage of "TheProblem (tm)" over "the problem" or, perhaps better, something like "the biggest problem" or "the problem that should be tackled first" or "the underlying problem or problems"?

It sounds a bit as if you are implicitly proposing a principle like "there is always a single underlying problem, if you can only find it". But that seems rather unlikely to be correct. In any case, whatever you mean it isn't perfectly clear what you do mean, and that is AProblem (tm).

Comment author: ChristianKl 31 July 2016 06:22:35PM 0 points [-]

ELiot Would you like to pick a specific one from the list to talk about? I can pick one if you like

Why do you offer to pick the specific issue? Agency is important for getting out of depression.

Zebra The stress of not going is physiological rather than psychological, so I don't think looking at that differently can really fix it.

The person tells you something about the cause of their problem but you don't react with a technique such as focusing that deals with physiological stress but ignore that comment.

ELiot Conversation with new people is "not alone"

I don't see that statement is helpful. You disregard the feelings of the person by declaring them to be wrong. If the person has trouble connecting with their feelings and releasing them, that's a bad move.

Zebra My mother claims I told her I was hospitalised for a head injury around the time my mental health problems started worsening.

Studies of head injuries suggest that depression does frequently follow from them.

Also, I've probably gained 40kg since then, so even if I was it's probably all for naught.

Again a physical issue. Is there inflammation that goes with the weight gain?

ELiot Even the meta strategy of "trying to plan" can help You should write down that idea

Probably a mistake. You first tell him that they should do something and then tell them that should isn't a helpful word.


I wouldn't try to solve the issue on the mental level. I think a form of manual therapy that targets the head and does aftercare for the head injury would be the intervention with the highest chance of improving this persons life.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 July 2016 06:52:51PM 0 points [-]

I think to identify The Problem, you have to imagine a world where Z doesn't have it, but doing that, you inevitably assign them some "purpose", generally speaking. Like, "lost 40 pounds" or "began enjoying rock music" or something. Or you can go another way about it and think "in passive voice" - imagine the things happening to Z if The Problem was overcome.

Five minutes by the clock give me: 1) in that other world, there's somebody who depends on Z. Maybe he volunteers in an animal shelter, to avoid having to communicate with people too much. There's some reason why breakfast must be eaten, because otherwise, it's not just that life would feel "expectedly worse", but Z's self-image would be "incompetent idiot" - I am not saying he would deserve it, I'm saying this was what I felt when upbraided for eating too little when breast-feeding. I got the impression Z would not have liked this, but without the part where what you do actually matters, it's not going to do any good. So, The Problem would be - Z doesn't have any reason to effect an impact on the world, even what people would call "a burden" might have helped together with medication, for all I know.

2) "things happened independently and made The Problem vanish" make me think of a sudden, inescapable change of circumstances, but I'm having trouble calling up "positives". There seems to be a general resentment towards all those pieces of environment which make Z stay where he is. In that case, I would suggest employment, which would at least give Z a new baseline of 'human idiocy' and some external order to his life. Yes, the world sucks. But there is no real obligation to like it or be liked.

Comment author: CronoDAS 26 July 2016 01:07:55PM 0 points [-]

Treatment for mental illness (and possibly organic brain trauma) seems priority #1 here...

Comment author: Elo 26 July 2016 01:11:52PM -2 points [-]

The conversation is more than 6 months old. How did you draw that conclusion? Did you have a set of possible problems? Did you narrow them down? Did you consider anything along the way? How did you rule them out?

Comment author: [deleted] 26 July 2016 05:00:05PM 4 points [-]

The conversation being six months in the past is irrelevant - this is the only piece of evidence we have, so there's no reason to change the conclusion.

You're asking people who, in their majority, aren't neurophysiologists, and so cannot possibly do these things. We do not even know what set of recognized mental conditions this person has.

OTOH, I would probably say that priority #1 would be to find someone - possibly the girlfriend - to keep track of Zebra's condition, since spacing out sounds very dangerous.

Comment author: Strangeattractor 26 July 2016 12:47:41PM 0 points [-]

The most alarming part of that conversation for me was "A few weeks ago I punched a housemate in the face ten times, breaking her nose;"

If I was having the conversation, I would ask him more about this, and talk at least a little bit about how he could stop hurting other people.

I'm not sure what you mean by the bottom of the problem. I will say some things that I think are problems. These are speculations. I don't have enough information to be confident in these answers.

1) I think it is a problem that, as far as I could tell, no one intervened and taught him not to be abusive after the punching incident. This is a problem with society.

2) I think it is likely that he has a brain injury from a head injury of some sort and/or from taking drugs such as meth. He mentioned both a head injury and meth. I would say to get treatment for brain injury, but doctors are still pretty clueless about how to treat brain injuries, though there are experimental possibilities.

3) I think it's possible that he's a sociopath, but there's not enough info to figure that out. The combination of not finding pleasure in life, and feeling no remorse, and not thinking about the effects of his actions on other people is suggestive. (Although there can be other reasons for that.)

4) I think there's likely something else wrong with his health. Maybe bipolar, since the bipolar meds are helping a bit, but I'm not convinced that accounts for everything.

5) I would guess that he did not have opportunities in childhood to be self-directed. His sense of not knowing what he enjoys, or what he wants, or how to make a plan, might be from lack of education and training in those areas, not just from physiological problems affecting his judgement.

Comment author: Elo 26 July 2016 01:10:04PM -2 points [-]

Can you describe how you came to these ideas as TheProblem? Your thought process or your procedure for concluding these?

Comment author: Strangeattractor 26 July 2016 06:16:30PM 1 point [-]

First of all, I think the concept of TheProblem is flawed. I don't think there is necessarily just one problem that is "the bottom of the problem" whatever you mean by that.

You presented a conversation, and asked us to read between the lines. So, I did. If I was actually attempting to figure out what was going wrong, if I was going to take action about it, I'd need way more information than this one conversation. I wouldn't describe anything I said as conclusions. My procedure for concluding these is "I didn't conclude them."

What specifically do you want to know about my thought process or procedure? I already put clues in what I've written. For example, some of the reasons I think he may be a sociopath is the combination of not finding pleasure in life, feeling no remorse, and not showing any thought for the effects of his actions on other people in his responses. I already said that. Also, sociopaths are about 4% of the population. It's plausible. Given that, and given some pattern recognition from having come across some people who turned out to be sociopaths, and given what I've read in the several books I've read about them, I would at least keep it as a possibility in mind while dealing with this person. It's also a question "Is this person a sociopath or not?" that affects how you may want to behave going forward and what is likely to work or not.

I can only bring my own knowledge and experiences to this, and there may be stuff I'm missing because I don't have experiences with it, or stuff that is a projection of what I've encountered, and not applicable in this situation.

I don't understand what you are asking me, or what specifically you want to know. I can go into more detail, but it's tough to know which details you are interested in or asking for.

Comment author: Elo 26 July 2016 11:13:09PM -2 points [-]

"A few weeks ago I punched a housemate in the face ten times, breaking her nose"

At the time I considered the value of digging into this and decided against it. I suspect there was more to the story, but figured the details would come out if they were relevant. Given that it was the one example of hurting people, I don't think it was an ongoing problem. To shake up that specific event wouldn't have led to all the other possible problems.

(more to come later)

Comment author: ChristianKl 31 July 2016 06:29:44PM 1 point [-]

I suspect there was more to the story, but figured the details would come out if they were relevant.

Scott wrote how "tell me more" is a very effective tool in his arsenal. It can be useful to go deep.

Given that it was the one example of hurting people, I don't think it was an ongoing problem.

You did nothing to check whether that was the only example.

Comment author: Strangeattractor 28 July 2016 04:05:38PM 0 points [-]

"What do you think is the biggest problem here?" is a different question than "What do you think I could have successfully started to address in one conversation?"

Comment author: [deleted] 26 July 2016 07:02:00PM 0 points [-]

Is it really the most alarming part? I would think suicide ideation more so.

Comment author: Strangeattractor 26 July 2016 09:19:46PM 3 points [-]

If he kills himself, he hurts only himself. If he's violent toward other people, he can end up doing a lot more damage than that. He mentioned that one incident, but given his casual attitude toward it, there are probably more. It wouldn't surprise me if he was beating his girlfriend. Domestic assault (I call it domestic because it was against someone he lived with, even though housemate is not as usual a target as partner or child) is a huge huge huge warning flag. He had a bad day, and trouble sleeping, and suddenly someone else has to deal with the consequences of having a broken nose for the rest of their lives. The consequences for each of them are disproportionate, asymmetric. If he has another bad day, what next?

His girlfriend's life might be in danger.

Comment author: Dagon 26 July 2016 09:46:20PM 2 points [-]

The combination of suicidal thoughts and violence toward others is worse than either alone. There are lots of ways to commit suicide that hurt more people more seriously than one broken nose.

Comment author: Elo 26 July 2016 11:22:03PM -2 points [-]

I considered this at the time, but I also decided not to dig at it. Z is still around, but I imagine Z would protest when I suggest that the summary of the punching incident was a throw-away line of "I'm too crazy for treatment".

If the inquirer took the bait, they would end up arguing about a specific incident that may or may not have gone quite like that and may or may not have had motivations that actually make in the bigger picture. (i.e. ongoing arguments, several-directional fights) Setting that down, and not delving into it, was me maintaining composure and actually having the rest of the conversation.

Comment author: [deleted] 26 July 2016 10:40:23PM 0 points [-]

Upvoted both you and Dagon, because I agree with what you say.

Still thinking that a housmate whose nose was broken and who, to our knowledge, doesn't have depression, has better chances of survival, though.

Comment author: Elo 26 July 2016 11:15:57PM -2 points [-]

If I were to focus on the suicidal ideation I would have missed every other problem that came up. And Z would have shut down, Z was not interested in talking about solving the suicidal ideation so I deliberately left it untouched. Lobbing an accusation about suicidal ideation is not a great idea for getting people to open up about their problems. As it is - I got a lot of information out of Z by not idling on suicide or the punching incident or other incidents.