Stoicism and my experience with mental illness

Imagine you’re a schizophrenic for just a second.  You wake up in the morning and the sun is beaming into your eyes and you feel at peace.  Except, you immediately start hearing inside your head, “shut up!”  “kill yourself”  “you’re fuckin’ worthless.”  “Go die!”  “Jump out your window, do it do it do it do it!”  These thoughts are pretty disturbing.  What’s more disturbing is it’s not even you saying them.  It sounds like some other person is shouting into your ears these thoughts.  And you keep hearing them throughout the day until maybe you interact with some actual real human being and maybe you get a little bit of peace from the voices.

Well, mental illness is not exactly something easy to live with.  Especially the most boring disease ever created by God:  DEPRESSION.  Yes.  Depression is the worst.  Especially when it’s major depression.  Depression isn’t being sad.  No it’s worse than sad.  It’s not having any hope, any motivation, or any reason to do anything.  It can make you become psychotic.  No, not a psychopath.  Psychotic.  That’s when you lose touch with reality and start believing all kinds of nonsense like someone stole your organs or your wife is cheating on you even though she’s with you in the house all day.

When it comes to super super major major depression, there’s not a lot Stoicism can do for you sadly.  I’ve been there.  Mental gymnastics just couldn’t snap me out of it.  I would lie on the floor in the kitchen for hours just begging God to kill me and send me somewhere less painful like Hell.  Initially I wasn’t even responding to medication.  Eventually, I just had to get my brain shocked and rebooted.  I had to have an electric arc pass through my brain to reshuffle all the damn neurotransmitters so that maybe they would start doing something right.  And it worked.  Amazingly, it worked.

Saying to yourself that “virtue is the only good” when you’re a schizophrenic or have major depression and not properly shocked/rebooted or medicated, you’re just not going to get where you need to.  I would like to say though that it’s true that virtue is the only good.  And the Stoics actually give us a good means to getting to virtue:  PREFERRED INDIFFERENTS.  Once you eat 3 meals a day, and sleep 8 hours, and you can get all your essential vitamins and even your psychiatric meds if necessary, you can then pursue virtue as the only good.

I’m not sure how the Stoics handled people with “disordered minds”.  Perhaps they just thought of them as strange anomalies.  Perhaps people with mental illnesses were never an issue to them because maybe anyone with a “disordered mind” would just be abandoned in a forest somewhere and starve to death.

Anyway, I would like to end by saying that if you have a “disordered mind” like mine you can certainly find comfort that you live in a technological civilization that can fix your brain neurotransmitters or reset/reboot them.  Just remember, “virtue is the only good”  BUT pursue your preferred indifferents as well.  Take care of your health.  Take especial care of your mental health.

assorted medication capsules
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Is pleasure an absolute indifferent or a preferred indifferent?

Sometimes there’s a debate over whether pleasure is a preferred or merely an absolute indifferent.

I think pleasure is a preferred indifferent, largely because pleasure is important for your body to function well and perform well in order to help you carry out virtue.  It’s important to please oneself and take pleasure in others’ pleasure.

If pleasure was an absolute indifferent, you could biologically function completely fine without it.  Your body would be in perfect health.  But living a life in pain or lack of pleasures takes it toll on anyone’s health.

It’s really important to find pleasure in a joke and laugh because this helps increase endorphins and endorphins are necessary for bodily health.  Not only that but they do affect the brain, which will affect the mind.

Sure, a Stoic will learn with practice to live without preferred indifferents but even though they may still live a life of eudaimonia, the lack of health, pleasure, wealth, reputation will inevitably take toll on their existence and they’ll slowly waste away.

Preferred indifferents are for our bodily existence.  Virtue is for our eudaimonic existence.  It’s true that virtue is the only good but it will be difficult to practice virtue without taking care of our bodily needs.  It’s not that bodily needs are good, they’re just a requisite means to the end of pursuing virtue, which is the ultimate importance for living a eudamonic life.

So enjoy pleasure.  You should enjoy it. Just don’t let it steal virtue away from you.

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Stoicism, Anxiety, and Depression

I’ve always been an anxious fellow.  I’ve always had a lot of phobias.  I mostly was afraid of people though (social anxiety disorder).  I was always worried what they would think.  When I talked to people, it was difficult for me to string sentences together because I was so worried that my speech and facial gestures would be judged harshly.  As I aged these fears began to go away.  But they never went completely away until I started practicing Stoicism in 2011.

Starting in 2010 I had a lot of anger problems too.  Some of it was because of my right-libertarian political beliefs at the time.  But as I practiced Stoicism my anger and my anxiety subsided.  Premeditatio malorum (more popularly known as negative visualization) really helped alleviate most of my anger and anxiety.

Even though I had mastered my anxiety and anger by 2012, I fell into a depression that caused psychosis.  No amount of Stoicism helped in this respect especially since it was a complete mental breakdown and it happened within a week.  It was just rapid depression turning into a loss of touch with reality.  After hospitalization, I was heavily medicated and I was able to think straight again.  Sometimes I still feel down or lose interest in daily life activities but my Stoicism really helps me adapt to this attitude.  I can easily get myself out of bed with Stoicism.

One of the things I’ve learned is that Stoicism can help me master some of my mental issues but not all of them.  Sometimes Stoicism’s mental therapies just don’t do the trick.  But they do at least help me when things are moderately severe.  Stoicism also helps me with pain.

In 2013 I was hospitalized for spontaneous stomach bleeding.  I lost a lot of blood but even though I did I was Stoically content.  The surgery was really painful because they had to cut through my belly in order to fix my stomach.  The nurses were very impressed with how I was able to cope with my pain.  Stoicism really prepared me for painful things like sharp cuts through the abdomen.

Stoicism can’t fix all your issues.  Don’t believe any one thing can just fix everything unless it’s like nanobots or something out of Star Trek.  Stoicism can’t completely fix you, marijuana can’t cure all cancers, vegan diets can’t cure all diabetes.  Don’t believe that only one thing can fix all things.  But Stoicism really does help a lot when you need something else other than medication or group therapy.

Stoicism is probably the most helpful philosophy I’ve ever had.  I don’t know where I’d be without it.

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5 Reasons Why Stoicism Is Better Than Objectivism

  1. Objectivism is a pretty selfish philosophy.  You spend all of your time thinking about your self interest.  Sure, it’s enlightened selfishness so it’s not like you’re pure evil.  But, at the end of the day, you only care about yourself.  Let’s face it, it gets kind of lonely thinking only about yourself and what you get out of any relationship.  Rather, why not practice Stoicism where you actually care about other human beings enough to actually sacrifice yourself for the team?  You’ll feel much better thinking of yourself as part of a greater whole and people will love you for your sacrifices.
  2. Objectivism cares entirely too much about externals like productivity. and even makes productiveness a virtue.  Sometimes in life it’s difficult to be productive.  You might have a physical disability or a mental illness that makes it hard to be productive.  Rather than cry yourself to sleep at night about not being productive, maybe you can try Stoicism.  In Stoicism you don’t need to meet external goals to be happy, you just need to meet internal goals of trying to be a good person.  In Objectivism if you can’t be productive you’re a sad human being.  In Stoicism if you’re not productive, it’s completely fine.
  3. Objectivism stresses its own virtue of independence.  But let’s face it, in life, you’ll be dependent quite often.  Sometimes you’ll have to ask your friend for money or get so poor you’ll need welfare.  Objectivism would tell you you’re a parasite for needing help.  But let’s not forget that Stoicism looked up to Diogenes who was a complete beggar.  Human beings are interdependent animals.  We’re not atomistic individuals who are completely self-sufficient and Stoicism says that’s perfect.
  4. Objectivism defines justice way too selfishly to make anyone happy.  An Objectivist would say justice is achieved when everyone pursues their own selfish interests and no one else interferes with their pursuits.  Unfortunately, if we allowed for this to be the case, the rich would just own everything and, the majority, the poor would be living on breadcrumbs and sick and dying.  Fortunately, Stoicism wants you to be your brother’s keeper and so demands that you sacrifice a lot of your own interests for the team.  In a Stoic society, the rich may not be as happy as they would be in an Objectivist society, but, hey, the poor will be a lot happier and not as dead.
  5. The most obvious reason why Stoicism beats Objectivism is that Objectivism only uses its own virtues as a mere means to happy selfishness.  Unfortunately, as we have seen Objectivism requires never being dependent or always being productive and that’s just implausible in many people’s lives.  Stoicism, on the other hand, just wants you to mean well.  In Stoicism, you may be paralyzed from the neck down, but as long as you have a benevolent heart, you’re a good person.  And for a Stoic virtue is its own reward.  So being benevolent in itself will lead one towards eudaimonia (true happiness).

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    The Objectivist Ayn Rand being her selfishly selfish self!