I received an email from a very nice person seeking advice and help about their future career choice. I replied saying that I don’t usually give advice because of how complex individuals can be. One piece of advice that might work for one person, may be detrimental to another. However, what I did do was speak from my own experiences – hoping that themes within them apply to their personal situation. I noted that what I wrote could be complete rubbish!

The email correspondence between us helped me to get some of my thoughts down on paper. And, I would like to put them up on my blog just in case someone else finds value in my experiences. This is the fourth of five blog posts.

This blog post discusses Alex’s personal experiences with anxiety and how it affected their perception of the “big questions” in life. They came to the realisation that framing decision-making based on their mood state rather than logical frameworks made more sense for them. They also believe that answering small questions can lead to a better understanding of the bigger picture. Alex suggests that the big question of “what is free will?” may not be the correct question to ask based on their experience with mental illness.

When I became severely anxious overnight, suddenly, some of the big questions became extremely important. But funnily enough, they all seemed to revolve around death and dying. After my severe reaction, I have given no thought at all as to whether free will exists or the hallmark of a life well lived.

This was not because I had an epiphany – it was because my inner brain (probably amygdala etc.) was stuck in the mode of: “You are about to die man! Do something!”. Despite the fact, well, given I am writing to you 7 years later, I wasn’t dying.

It took me years to realise this. I thought that if I could just find some logical framework of how death works, I would feel better. But, whenever I reached some logical conclusion on one question, another question arose, just as terrifying.

I have come to learn that things make much more sense when I frame the world based on mood, rather than any thought or logic tied to them. i.e. to think “bottom-up” rather than “top-down”. Pigeons don’t seem to care about any of the big questions, but they still experience fear, excitement, and curiosity (at least I think they do – I know nothing about pigeons!).

As I have shifted through extreme mood states in these last few years, I have experienced dramatic shifts in my logic and the way I view the world. One hour I could think that all the evidence in the world points to the fact life is not worth living. That it would be better if I died. The next hour I would think all evidence points to the world being a terrifying place and I must expend all my energy now to keep me safe and ensure I stay alive.

As you can see, this makes no sense at all!

Therefore, I now construct my decision making with my mood state as a base. Right now, anger is in the driving seat. So, I think about what I am angry about: Mental health system, attitudes towards mentally ill etc. To express this anger, it makes sense to talk about my experience – through mediums such as articles and podcasts. If my base mood changes, then I reevaluate what I wish to do. I am oversimplifying a bit to help explain (I have multiple base mood states it is just anger is the strongest).

Of course, the need for money does get in the way a bit. One of the very few luxuries of mental illness and being too sick to work, is that I have a lot of free time. But even if I was working, that would not stop me from expressing my anger by writing articles in my time outside of work, or trying to set up something inside work. Like an event, group meeting or talk about mental health.

As someone who has spent a long time thinking about the big questions, I have come to realise that they are not very useful questions. They overgeneralise systems which are inherently complex. To put it simply, they are not the “right” questions to engage my curiosity. You cannot know how a thunderstorm works without understanding a huge chunk of electromagnetism, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics and probably many more subjects.

I think it is only once the small questions are answered that you know the structure of the “big” question – you know which question to ask. A thunderstorm doesn’t “work”, thunderstorms “form”. The big question changes to: what conditions allow a thunderstorm to potentially form?

For instance, I can say with near certainty, from my experience of mental illness, that the big question “what is free will?” is not in the correct form.

Though, it is only my opinion – could be entirely wrong!