It seems weird to start a public blog post with how I’m feeling, because that seems so irrelevant to what’s happening right now, and to anyone who doesn’t know me. But a couple of people suggested it might be good to write a post like this. Also, over some of the past week I couldn’t be around others (covid), and found that pretty isolating and alienating while the FTX crisis was intensifying. For people who feel less surrounded by like-minded people in daily life, I thought it might be helpful to have some more voices on the forum expressing how we’re feeling. Sharing our coping strategies also seems particularly useful right now, given that many of us are currently dealing both with difficult emotions, more life uncertainty and greatly increased stress.
In what follows, I’m not going to touch much on what specifically happened around FTX. I’ve haven’t been following the reporting as closely as others and don’t have a background in finance. I’m also not going to say that much about what I’ve learned from the debacle. I want to come back to what I should learn going forward when the situation is clearer, the most urgent response work has settled down and I can think more clearly. As usual for my posts on the forum, I’m writing in a personal capacity.
How I’m feeling
I was hesitant to write about my feelings not just because they seem irrelevant, but also because it feels hard even to know how I’m feeling, let alone describe it. I also honestly really don’t want to inhabit a bunch of my emotions right now. But I’ll have a go at describing them here.
Please don’t take any of these as in any way a prescription on how people should feel. Some of my friends feel angry and betrayed right now, some feel confused about their place in the world, some feel totally fine and largely unaffected by last week’s events. All of those sound totally reasonable to me.
Here are a few of the kinds of things I’ve been feeling over the last week, to give a flavour of how much it feels like I’ve bounced around: Panic and urgency over figuring out how the things I’m responsible for need to be handled and done differently in light of this. Frustration and anger at how powerless I feel to really help. Anguish that whatever I tried to work on I somehow seemed to upset someone or let someone down. Gratitude for being able to go home to my son and how excited toddlers are to see you even if you can’t do anything more in the world than provide food and cuddles.
I’ve been trying not to inhabit my feelings of sadness too much. There’s a lot to do, now of all times, so being too upset to contribute seems worth avoiding if I can. I’ve found two things particularly salient, and their sadness impossible to avoid. One is interpersonal conflict. It’s an extremely high stress time in which people are even busier than usual, so it’s easier than ever to cause friction, whether with friends/colleagues/online acquaintances. I’m also finding that harder to deal with than usual, I think because my refuge is usually caring relationships. The other sadness I’m finding impossible to avoid inhabiting is that some of my dearest friends are feeling deeply sad in a way I can do almost nothing to alleviate.
Those are the things that I can’t get away from. But I know that in some light they don’t even seem that significant. There are so many sadnesses now that I really want to avoid looking at. One is sadness for the people who lost their money, despite thinking it was safely deposited rather than even being invested. Like a lot of us, I know people who lost money to this, including most of their life savings. Another is sadness for people who had been planning important endeavours with grants they were expecting but now won’t get, in some cases even giving up stable employment for it. Another is sadness for people who received a donation and now have to choose between paying the rent and feeling somehow culpable.
But the thing I really can’t abide looking at is the loss to the people who were the intended ultimate beneficiaries of the money I thought FTX was going to be able to legitimately donate. The group of intended beneficiaries was a broad and diverse group, many of whom not only aren’t identifiable but don’t yet exist. It’s the animals in factory farms which will endure worse conditions because of money not going to lobbying. It’s people continuing to suffer from preventable health conditions. It’s as yet unborn people whose future might be shorter or contain more suffering than it could have. Of course we don't know if the projects FTX might have funded would have worked -- but they stood a chance, a chance they'll now not get.
In my head, the benchmark for EA donations is bed nets. That’s mostly because of what I’ve worked on in the past, which is somewhat arbitrary. For better or worse though, my intuitive mental standard, which other donations need to improve on, is AMF. And I really believed that the FTX’s donations would, in expectation, meet that standard. If there’s some specific amount of money that FTX made legitimately that could ever have been donated, I don’t know what it is. The sense of loss is in my mind, rather than a fact about the world. But knowing that doesn’t prevent the feeling I can’t bear - that the world just lost on the order of $10 billion of saving the lives of infants from malaria.
I haven’t been talking or even thinking about this, because I haven’t so far been able to without crying. And the more I’m crying, the less I’m helping. But for anyone who’s struggling with the same, I wanted you to know you aren’t alone.
Dealing with grief
For some of us, the reaction to this event is a lot like grief. You might be dealing with this grief, or you might be supporting others feeling grief. Hopefully, most of us don’t experience grief that often. So it can be surprising, and confusing to handle, in addition to obviously being difficult. So I thought I’d share a few thoughts about grieving.
My main experience with this comes from having a late term stillbirth. One thing that I hadn’t anticipated then about grieving was how unpredictable my emotions would be - day to day, and hour to hour. I wasn’t sure which things would upset me, and which would be fine. So I tried to take a fairly ‘experimental’ approach to things, eg trying out going to a social event to see how it would feel, rather than immediately committing to spending a whole evening.
The unpredictability of grieving is made harder by the fact that different people react very differently to similar upsetting situations. So it’s hard to learn from what works for another person what will work for you. Having said that, here are a few things I found helpful when grieving, in case that’s useful:
- Starting out on CBT/meditation/therapy while I was still reeling.
- I treated things like trying therapy and starting on an online CBT app as a set of tasks to immediately do, rather than waiting to feel like wanting to do them. I basically didn’t know how to feel better, but trying things out seemed good. And that was pretty helpful for me, because when I was feeling most down was when I least wanted to hassle with figuring out which meditation app to use and how to get it working.
- If you’re looking for recommendations for therapists or other resources, you could check out the EA mental health navigator
- Here's a post about community support during this crisis in particular, which has some more mental health links
- Talking through my feelings with friends
- In addition to general friendly support, I found it pretty useful to deliberately try to figure out what things felt particularly bad for me, and seeing if there were different framings that could help me make sense of things and feel better
- Trying to let myself enjoy things rather than having the mindset that ‘the appropriate thing is to feel sad’
- This seems all the more important when something has happened that leads many people to feel grief, because if people around you are sad that feels even more appropriate. But feeling good can be a source of inspiration and comfort to others around you, so if you’re feeling fine, that’s great!
- People being understanding of me when I had less emotional slack than usual - for example, when I was curt or frustrated, or when I dropped out of a commitment at short notice because I felt worse than I expected to
Something I try to do for friends going through a tough time is keep in regular contact with them. Personally, I like hearing what my friends are up to, and I like knowing they’re thinking about me. That’s true even when I don’t feel up for replying. So when friends are going through something, I try to stay in contact with them even if the correspondence is pretty one sided. (Although - some people experience this as stressful because they feel they ought to be responding, so it definitely isn’t always a good idea!)
What’s getting me through this:
I’m trying to move fast on the work that needs to be done - both my usual work and the things caused by this situation. But I’m also trying to make sure I get enough sleep, and plenty of time with the people I love - whether watching Fireman Sam together, or a Christmas film, or just mocking each other. I haven’t been doing well on exercising recently, but I’m hoping to improve on that next week.
I find it hard to be forgiving of myself for not being able to concentrate and get through my top priorities when there are so many important things to do, now of all times. Thankfully, I have people around me who can help me not feel bad about it when I drop things or can't focus -- they reassure me that's normal, and understandable, and it doesn't mean I can't be helpful in general. (If that's something you also need to hear, take this as me saying it to you.)
Probably I’m finding being around people I care about and trust most important. It’s nice to remember that there are actually a lot of people around me trying hard to help others as much as they can, and that I shouldn’t lose faith in people too broadly because of one terrible event. I’m trying to remember to tell people more often how much they mean to me.
I think having those people around also reminds me that this project of ours, to help others as much as we can, is actually viable. I read Peter Singer when I was at secondary school, but I figured I’d never really do much about it because clearly no one else was. Only 5 years later did I encounter people who were seriously thinking about how best to help others. To be honest, I wasn’t really sure it would stick. In the first wave of media attention GWWC got (around 2009), we got a lot of comments that we were just idealistic youngsters and we’d think differently when we reached our thirties. That sounded pretty plausible to me - people’s lives change a lot after they start settling down and having kids. But I’m now married, with a house and a kid, and it turns out that hasn’t changed my desire to make the world better.
This week was a huge setback. And that adds to the fact that it was already really hard to know how we can best help people, and really hard to actually do the things that seem best. But having like-minded people around me reminds me working on this is both viable and important. I’m truly grateful to have people challenging me to live up to my values and helping me do so.