Mistakes Were Made (but that doesn’t mean give up)

As a biohacker and citizen scientist, I have a lot to consider about personal responsibility.

Biohacking and science can be dangerous places to play. And because those like me are taking it into our own hands, we have to take the consequences into account. Not just for our own safety, but the safety of others. It’s not our responsibility to control others, but it is our responsibility to consider consequences when we involve others.

Two years ago, I made a pretty big mistake.

I was involved in one of the most sciency low-budget citizen science projects at the time (I might be biased). It was a small group of people who were looking for another data sample. I was a unique entity among my kind because I was female. Because I wanted to be a big shot and had not yet been diagnosed with bipolar, I took on the role of female data point. I was in a hypomanic state. I did not fully understand the consequences. It should have been obvious, especially considering I had recently had panic attacks, had taken on an internship with Dangerous Things, and worked a very high stress job, but that’s not how hypomania works and I know that now. People usually just thought I was extremely put together. And I believed I could do way more than makes logical sense. But, at the time, I thought I could do anything, if I just had the “right” attitude. There are versions of me at different times in my history that would know better, but not me at that time.

I was upfront about the medication I was on, assuming the guys I perceived as running the show would disqualify me. But they didn’t. We were citizen scientists and I did not yet fully understand what that meant. I loved the idea, but had not fully grasped the scope of the responsibility.

I lost the weight. I did the prep work (so I thought). I paid in my contribution. I was enthusiastic.

Then, barely into the experiment itself, I crashed really, really hard. Not only was the diet of unsweetened soylent miserable and I was having a hard time feeding myself (and, being an emotional eater and only having soylent compounded this), but I had too many high stress things going on and the depression part of bipolar struck hard.

I wanted to die. I had a plan and almost followed through. Parts of what made me not consisted of how bad it would make the project look, how bad it would make women look because I thought I was being weak, part of it was fear, and part of it was that, on some meager level, I wanted things to get better instead of dying. I was doing this, in part, because I wanted to live forever, right? Fortunately, I called someone and things improved in my mind, but I took out a lot of my frustration on the study.

There were flaws with the study… not the idea or setup in principle, but the follow through was imperfect in many ways. We were all more-or-less beginners, some were just more educated than the others. But the responsibility of what happened to me does not fall to them, it falls squarely on me.

I ended up dropping out of the study which was the correct decision (but unfortunately, not without doing harm before I left). The decision just happened later than it ought to have. Which was before it began.

I should never have been part of the study. I was not psychologically suitable for it. As a citizen scientist, you are working with peers, not overlords who are expected to be perfect and have all the correct answers. As a citizen scientist, you accept a responsibility to be careful, because no one is regulating you. You accept the responsibility to be self-aware and not fool yourself. No laws prevent people from self-experimenting (save drug laws – lame) and they shouldn’t, in my opinion, as it only adds to ignorance and sense of fear and loss of personal responsibility. So, when one does self-experiment, by themselves or with others, assuming transparency, they take on the consequences and there is no one to blame if things go wrong.

Being self-aware is an important aspect of citizen science. Understand your limits. Some gauge conservatively beforehand and that works well for them. For others, one must go past them to realize what they are. I did. I just wish it wasn’t a mistake that involved other people. No one died or got injured or anything, but the study was compromised and I disappointed myself and others.

I learned humility in a new way. I’d gained it in certain circumstances, but definitely not that one. I’d also confused it with feeling inferior. I didn’t have the self-awareness to know it then.

But I adapted. I have it now and it’s an important quality in science. That’s what it’s about. In citizen science as well as in life, it’s about being willing to understand more, learn more, and change when needed in order to see reality better. And it’s taking ultimate responsibility for your learning process once you have control of it (i.e. public school can be a devastating imposition on some people’s learning process; but, when you realize you can make it yours, you get the responsibility for it from that point forward. It’s not that the things of the past won’t affect you, but you get to decide how to deal with it).

I’m not interested in winning arguments or looking superior. I’m not interested in being afraid and shying away. I am interested in getting closer to understanding reality. Running and/or participating in experiments is just a small part of that. Changing one’s mind and adjusting to new information is far more important. It’s what enables citizen scientists to be good sharers and help contribute to real progress.

Science can be hard. Self-awareness can be hard. But they’re worth it. So go for it. Proceed thoughtfully, not fearfully.

Get ready to embrace reality.

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