Michael Ashcroft

September 8, 2021

Striving for the good qualia

I have become one of those people who eats a weird diet.

Right now I am doing strict keto, which means I eat less than 20g of carbohydrate per day. I also exclude all nuts, cow dairy, alcohol and caffeine. Not only does this make ordering any drink at a pub difficult ("I'll have an overpriced sparkling water, please"), it also requires a lot of thought, planning and not allowing myself to have things I enjoy.

So why do I do it? I do it because I just really, finally want to feel consistently good.

It took me a long time to realise that many people feel the same most of the time. They wake up and go "hmm, yes, these are indeed my qualia, off we go then."

This is not how things are for me. It seems like my moods, energy levels, ability to focus, emotions and even the contents of my thoughts are highly sensitive to environmental and internal conditions in one way or another. They all bounce around a lot.

When I drink even a single shot of coffee I get a 20 minute rush of euphoria and hyper focus, then I get sweaty and scattered, then comes the crushing anxiety and then I get a few hours of low-mood fatigue. For alcohol, the 'feel good' curve now seems to come after the 'feel bad' curve, so I just feel tired, sick and withdrawn before I get any of the fun stuff that alcohol promises.

In the winter here in the UK we don't get many daylight hours, and those that we do get are often hidden behind thick grey clouds for weeks on end. I'm sensitive to this and experience what I assume is Seasonal Affective Disorder. My life is reliably most subjectively terrible around January and February, but if I fly south to somewhere sunny then my entire life outlook shifts within 24 hours.

And, finally, even when I eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and sleep at sensible times, there seem to be random days when things are great and random days when they are not. I assume nutrition and sunlight are implicated here, but I'm still experimenting.

These sensitivities have actually increased with age, but I think they were always there and my youth just hid them somewhat. All this means is that I have developed a strong tendency to tinker with my environment, with what I put into and with what I do with my body.

Keto is annoying, restrictive and means I have to deny myself certain pleasures (like cake). But is it more annoying than seeing my life drift by in a distant, anxious, low-energy haze? No it is not.

I am extremely aware of my qualia and I know that my qualia are malleable. My belief is that the default qualia mode should be clear, happy, exploratory and energetic; if it's not then there is some kind of dysfunction in the system. If that dysfunction can be resolved, say by eating a nutritious, non-harmful diet, by moving a lot, by being in the sun a lot, by sleeping consistently well, then those qualia will emerge.

I confess that having to do so much work to notice, decipher and resolve the dysfunction is frustrating, but it is what it is. I shall keep going. I want those good qualia.

Photo by Zhuo Cheng you on Unsplash


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