#13 The Incerto & Nassim Taleb Podcast – Antidepressants & Antifragile

What Is It To Be Antifragile?

[The following is half transcript/half essay taken from The Nassim Taleb & Incerto Podcast episode #13]

Antifragility gains from disorder. To understand Antifragility and how it links so much of life, we have to first define it through the dual prisms of the robust and the fragile.

Fragile

Things that are fragile, break from disorder.

Take your laptop as an example. What happens when you spill a cup of coffee all over your keyboard?

The laptop breaks. The laptop is fragile and breaks under the pressures of liquid disorder.

Robust

Things that are robust, survive disorder.

Take a slab of concrete as an example. What happens when you smash a slab of concrete?

It is barely affected. The concrete is robust to disorder, it can withstand severe pressures.

Antifragility

Things that are antifragilegain from disorder.

Take your bicep. What happens when you lift a barbell at the gym?

The muscles tear, and then after, heal stronger. They are antifragile. Muscles gain from disorder, much like the mind. When they are exposed to pressures, they improve.

Antidepressants & Antifragility

Antifragility welcomes disorder, it welcomes strain and it welcomes depressions because it knows that it is the lows which justifies the highs. 

There is no happy without sad. no nourishment without hunger. No triumph without pain.

The antifragile person improves from disorder, again and again, through iteration. There is no stagnation, no settling point of robustness.

Taleb makes the point that antidepressants make you fragile and I must say that I agree with him.

What Is The Purpose Of Antidepressants?

They are administered to ‘level out’ a person’s emotional impulses while they are treated through CBT or some other psychiatric means to work through depression, anxiety or some other complex.

They are prescribed to make therapy efficient and manageable. Which completely makes sense. Therapy is expensive, time-consuming and extremely invasive. Why not try and ‘fix’ the issue as efficiently as possible.

What About The Stress Threshold For Antifragile (Important Consideration)

What doesn’t kill me makes me stronger. Improve from disorder. To become antifragile you want to constantly invite struggle and difficulty into your life. Nothing to wild, but enough that you can manage.

Over time your ability to deal with adversity steadily increases on a linear trajectory. Think about a line graph with steady improvements over time. This is you becoming more antifragile. Every time you take on something tough and succeed, well you struggled, but now you are better. Every time you shave 5 seconds off your run rate or add 5kgs to your bench press. You are steadily increasing your adversity to become stronger to them.

The very essence of antifragile.

But what is the key consideration throughout all of this?

NEVER exceed your stressor threshold. The idea is small to medium stressors to improve steadily over time. If you try to take on something wildly too hard, then you will surely fail. This will knock you a step backwards. If you try adding 50kg rather than 5kg to your next benchpress. You will surely fail, this is a step backwards.

We are talking about steady increments. Always improving over time. This is antifragile.

Then What About Antidepressants?

I say they should not be administered unless self harm is being threatened. 

And before we go any further, I hear what you are saying.

You never know with self-harm. Most people won’t announce their intentions before they do it.

Yes – I hear you. We have now entered into an extraordinarily nuanced and contextual debate. Issues of mental health should always be dealt with at the individual level.

What I am offering here is a framework through which to think about antidepressants. This is for whether you take them, your mother takes, your brother takes them, or your best friend takes them. Think about this through the prism of antifragile.

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Antidepressant Threshold

If your threshold for disorder is that someone is threatening or capable of self-harm. Extreme intervention is needed. Because let’s be clear, Antidepressants are extreme intervention

They have horrendous downsides. Sickening downsides.

Its like saying going on general anesthetic is treatment for a broken arm. Antidepressnts fix nothing. They are simply a means to allow the actual therapy a better chance of success.

Then why now, if this is the case, do we record more people than ever prescribed to antidepressants and why do we year on year, record more suicides than the year before?

Is it too much of leap to suggest a correlation between the two?

Does depriving someone the difficulty of managing extreme swings down followed by extreme swings up make the depression worse?

Most people who harm themselves, do so when they are either on antidepressants, or failed to miss a dose.

Broken Arm Metaphor For Antidepressants

What if this was how you treated the arm? Well, what happens when you get off the anaesthetic. Your arm is significantly worse off than it was before, it hurts more, and it lost its functionality. By never actually healing the arm, it is now so mangled that the process of healing is now 100x harder. At this point, it almost makes more sense to just permanently mask the symptoms than deal with it. But now your arm is quite useless, your potential is stifled.

What if you spend years ‘ levelled out’, masking symptoms of depression and anxiety. Just forcing it to the back of the mind. You are not curing anything. 

Mental illnesses are tragic. They are extremely difficult to deal with, and so, for some reason so sad within our culture, we have decided to medicate into obscurity the very people who might have otherwise been the most brilliant. 

And the actual problem gets worse. You get to a stage where it is unthinkable to live without the antidepressants. Because you have not been undergoing the interactions of ups and downs in a natural manner than psychologically healthy people deal with every day. You are chemically inducing ups when you get down. It is so manufactured. It destroys character. Because you become so fragile. So victim to break at the slightest push.

And how does society treat people that are extremely fragile? It constantly makes concessions to them. How does this make a person feel? Knowing that someone is not saying everything they could because they know it could break you? 

Where Does Antifragility Fit In?

Small stressors over and over and over, and you improve steadily and steadily. If you shield yourself to all stressors in life. If your family accommodates you so you don’t experience any physical stress, and then your doctor accommodates with antidepressants so you don’t feel any psychological stress. Then you only serve to become weaker and weaker. 

And the daily stressors of dealing with your ups and your downs. The daily stressors of dealing with things that make you anxious, things that make you said. Things that make you depressed. These daily stressors improve you over time. 

And the path back only becomes harder and harder. I used to have a roommate who suffered terrible PTSD, and he, for a long time was using antidepressants, both through official subscriptions as well as high consumption of weed.

This is a remarkable guy. What he went through was so traumatic, that you can imagine perhaps his threshold for disorder was met and so antidepressants administered.

He then came off the pills. And I saw a transformation in this guy. And yes, he was still guarded to some things, and still smoked a lot, and still struggled with the high and low variations of the day more than say, I would.

But he became stronger when he got off the meds. He did the courageous thing. And made the active decision to fight his PTSD in his head, rather than mask his symptoms through pills.

The consumption of an antidepressant masks your problem and offers no path to Antifragility. 

Taleb On Depression & Antidepressants

Mood swings are a natural part of the human condition. If someone is truly suicidal then yes, antidepressant intervention is needed (consider the disorder threshold).

But for everyone else, who in ‘modernity’ are offered so few barriers to continual consumption, antidepressants make you weaker and more fragile to disorder. 

Which ultimately manifests itself through self harm or failure in life.

Taleb writes,

“The ability to wrestle with our dark side is part of life and great inspiration for creation and purpose”.

So for those of you listening who do have intimate relationships with people suffering from depression, addicted to antidepressants, which these days are most of us.

I implore you to try and frame in your own mind the sickness of antidepressants for what it is.

It is inhumane to emotionally chemically castrate a child because they are a lot to handle. I was a lot to handle, my brother was a ridiculous amount to handle, and we both now, as adults, have a very high threshold to emotional disorder. We can take on very heavy emotional burdens. This is because we have had many years of hating ourselves, embarrassing ourselves, going from super low to super-high and I know the antidepressant question was presented to my parents for my brother, and thank god they never took it.

Life is worth living because of its highs, and those highs are only achievable because there exist such lows. Life is a duality of inexorable opposites. Black, white, yin, yang, good, evil, this is the narrative of humanity. We exist between these opposites.

It is wrong and cruel to administer a chemical that stifles your ability to experience that ride.

In Conclusion – Antidepressants

Therefore it should only be considered should the threshold disorder be met. But before it is met we must do the much harder thing. And endure a hyperactive person. To try and understand and discipline and tolerate wild children. 

How to treat mental illness is an extraordinarily nuanced and contextual debate. Issues of mental health should always be dealt with at the individual level.

I fear most parents don’t understand what they are doing when they agree to have their children medicated.

People medicate themselves all the time. Booze and weed are the most common and these will allow you to offset how you truly feel.

But the courageous act and the enduring act is to tackle your mood with your head. Tackle the stressor, become more antifragile.

Improve from disorder! Don’t run away from or mask pain. Defeat it.

Shoulder your burden and orientate yourself down a path which realises your potential.

Avoid antidepressants if you can. And try intervene in the lives of those you love.

Improve from disorder, become antifragile.

Think of antidepressants as a treatment for mental illness as a general anaesthetic a treatment for a broken arm.

Subscribe To My Newsletter – 🗒️ A Curious Worldview!

Cheers for reading through to the end you legend!

Every month (or couple of weeks) I write a short, popular email.

In it you will have your worldview expanded upon. It will either challenge your beliefs or open your eyes to something new. Never boring. Sometimes in will include things you don’t want to see. Sometimes it will be exactly what you were looking for.

It is free and the best thing you can do for me. If you are keen, chuck your email in below and then CHECK YOUR SPAM!

MAKE SURE YOU CHECK IF THE EMAIL GOES TO THE WRONG EMAIL FOLDER – PLEASE DRAG EMAIL INTO PRIMARY FOLDER

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Antidepressants & Antifragile – Youtube

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