Severe Depression and Effective Altruism

bygaribaldi4mo26th Mar 201918 comments

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Hello all, I am writing here as a bit of a cry for help in a way. I have long been interested in but also overwhelmed by the idea of effective altruism and how much good I could and should be doing. I have fallen well short of these ideals but to an extent I do not feel overly guilty and obligated to give a large amount of my income unless I become extremely depressed and self-reflective. At this point my scrupulosity and perfectionism kicks in and I beat myself up to a large amount (but still with a feeling of paralysis...rather than taking action, so far).

I have inherited a large sum of money from my Grandma, which my Dad has effectively given to me to help me buy a house where I live, where housing is relatively expensive. I know that I am likely to also inherit a substantial amount from my parents in future as an only child of relatively wealthy parents (because they worked hard and saved a lot rather than them inheriting money themselves, plus property value growth has been very high where I live).

When I'm at my most depressed I feel like giving all this money away and that I should give any inheritances away in the future (and retain enough to live a minimalist satisfying life), as some effective altruists manage to do. However this feeling isn't from compassion or "wanting" to do it, it's from a deep seated sense of guilt and a sense of duty/obligation. I can't escape the logic of effective altruism and I start to feel terrible about lives being lost due to me. I know my parents want me to use the money on a house which most of the time I feel comfortable with but I feel extremely uncomfortable with when I'm depressed.

I then convince myself that I must stay depressed, must harness these feelings of guilt to make sure I do the most good. Because depressed me will do more good than normal me. This doesn't really seem illogical to me from a utilitarian point of view because if I force myself to suffer and become more guilty, I will make much more difference to other's lives than if I become more "mentally stable" and ignore my obligations. If I gave away all this money I've just got and really angered my parents, who I love so much, and completely broke their trust, then committed suicide, I would still make more of a positive difference to the world than selfishly getting "better" and spending it on myself.

I get that people might say the best option would be to get better but also embrace effective altruism, however, unless I'm feeling depressed I tend to let myself "get away with it" and I don't donate much. When I am feeling more "normal", I also don't want to oppose my parents when it is them gifting me this money for a specific reason.

I suppose I feel like I am a failure if I don't give a substantial amount away and I'm wondering if anyone else has had these feelings but managed to reconcile them? Selfishly, I don't want to feel so guilty and obligated. I get it's kind of ironic to be asking for help/forgiveness on this though because I'm pretty much saying I want to feel better about doing less good on a website that is about promoting doing the most good.

Thank you.

Gary.

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