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[Related to: Beware of Other-Optimizing; Generalizing From One Example; What Universal Human Experiences Are You Missing Without Realizing It?]

This post does not contain new material; everything I say in this post is said in the above-linked posts. But it’s important, and particularly important at the beginning of a sequence that gives advice, so I’m going to say it anyway. Bear with me, people who have been around here for a while.

Everyone is different. This is a platitude. You hear it in elementary school classrooms and workplace presentations about diversity, and for that reason it can be hard to understand how important it is.

Everyone is different. There are lots and lots of ways in which everyone can be different. Some people are extroverts; some people are introverts. Some people worry constantly; other people shrug off a cancer diagnosis. Some people can get along with anyone; other people refuse to give anyone a second chance because they already know they dislike the person so why would they give that person another opportunity to be disappointing? Some people have studyblrs full of beautiful photographs of their neatly color-coded notes for all twelve of the college classes they’re taking; some people made a studyblr, got distracted by discourse and memes, and haven’t posted anything to it except a list of the fancy pens they fully intended to buy from Amazon. Some people love beautiful things and museums and daydreaming and poetry; other people… actually I have no idea what low-openness-to-experience people do all day, sorry guys.

We have barely begun to map out the number of ways that people can be different.

What this means is that the advice that works for one person often utterly fails for another person.

We see this in all areas of human endeavor. One person writes in the morning; another in the evening; another gets a hotel room and churns out a novel in a single feverish week. One person finds that running lets them be alone with their thoughts; another likes how yoga connects them to their body; a third finds the social aspect of sports very motivating. One baby thrives with cosleeping, while another needs to cry-it-out, and a third does well with no-cry sleep training.

A further complication is that we don’t have words for all the ways that people can be different. Sometimes scientists have the word but laypeople don’t: many people who have no sense of smell have never heard the word “anosmia.” Other very real distinctions are ones no one has learned to make yet. (There has been little study about what factors cause a person to prefer writing in hotel rooms.) If we don’t know how people differ, then we can’t have any sense about for whom the advice works.

Depression is a condition about which there has been a good deal of research. There are accepted evidence-based therapies (CBT) and medications (SSRIs, MAOIs, tricyclics). But you’ll find formerly depressed people swearing by mindfulness, CBT, DBT, behavioral activation, SSRIs, antipsychotics, MDMA, LSD, nootropics, exercise, yoga, vitamins, finding a partner, breaking up with a partner, cuddling a pet, walking outside in nature, acupuncture, green smoothies, and lighting herbs on fire near your toes. All of these treatments likely alleviate depression for some people. (…Maybe not lighting herbs on fire near your toes.) All of these treatments will likely fail to treat depression for other people. And for none of them do we have a good sense of what populations they are likely to work for. All you can do is keep trying things which seem likely to work and have an acceptable risk profile until you aren’t depressed anymore, and try to avoid the “my depression was caused by a vitamin deficiency, therefore SSRIs are a LIE and everyone should take Vitamin D” assholery.

There has been almost no research into scrupulosity and dysregulated guilt and shame, and there are no best practices which I am aware of. Therefore, when I write about my scrupulosity, it is merely one person’s description of what worked for me. It is as credible as one depressed person saying “I became less depressed when I started taking regular walks in nature.” Certainly a useful anecdote; perhaps helpful to some depressed people trying to narrow down the enormous list of things they could theoretically do about depression; absolutely not a universal cure.

Although I hope this is not the case, it is possible my recovery was entirely due to the beneficial effects of time, that I am attributing causality where there is none and this series is the equivalent of the depressed person writing that lighting herbs on fire near their toes cured their depression. That is always a possibility when a person is describing what worked for them.

I believe that what I write will be useful for some people; I believe it will be useless for others, and perhaps harmful. But if the things that work for me don’t work for you, that’s okay. That’s normal. That’s how brains work. People are different. Test everything yourself, and if something doesn’t work, toss it away without a further thought.

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