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How the 'Gray Dog' of Dysthymia Is Different From the 'Black Dog' of Depression


“Nothin’ is really wrong / Feelin’ like I don’t belong.” – The Carpenters, “Rainy Days and Mondays.”

After quite a long spell of stable feelings (and maybe some productive hypomania), I’ve hit the wall of depression again.

Not full-blown depression, like I’ve had so often in my life. This is technically dysthymia, which is psych-speak for a low-grade depression, sort of like a low-grade fever that makes you tired and headachey and not wanting to get out of bed. To curl up in a blanket and sleep. To take aspirin and forget about everything else. That’s where I am. I’m not wrestling with the “black dog” — call it the gray dog.

I am finding it very hard to write this, but I am pushing to do so because, at the moment, that’s one of the few positive things I can point to – that my husband can point to – and remind me that depression lies.

What depression is telling me now is that I haven’t accomplished anything in my life — that I skated through high school and missed wonderful opportunities in college. That my jobs have been a pointless series of minimal value to anyone. That my writing is self-indulgent crap, unoriginal and meaningless.

Depression is telling me I don’t matter, that I am becoming invisible, and it’s my own fault for never going out, for not reaching out. It’s not quite the self-pitying whine of “If I died, no one would come to my funeral.” It’s more like turning into a particularly ineffectual ghost — frightening no one, bringing no message from beyond, just fading and losing substance.

Depression is telling me the future is bleak. I have a writing assignment now, but in a month it will be over and I’ll be right back where I was – at the edge of panic or worse, despair; or worst, both.

Depression is telling me I’m a terrible burden and I don’t deserve my husband, who takes care of me when I’m like this.

At the moment, I don’t have the ability to believe all these are lies.

I do know this won’t last forever. I’ve come far enough in my healing to believe that. And comparatively, it’s not that bad. I am quietly leaking tears, not weeping copiously. My bad thoughts are not as ugly as they could be or have been.

I haven’t given up.

But I almost want to.

It’s the “almost” that makes this the “gray dog” and not the “black dog.” That keeps me taking my meds and waiting for the gray dog to depart. That tells me to write this, even though I doubt its usefulness.

Useless sums up how I feel. Old and tired. Detached from society.

As depression goes, I’m really in a not-terribly-bad place, which doesn’t make it much easier to live through. A little, though. I still have my support system, and I did get out of bed today (after noon), and I’m writing, even as I doubt my ability. But if I’m quoting The Carpenters, I can’t help but feel just a wee bit pathetic.

The gray dog is with me. One day soon (but not soon enough), it won’t be.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you need support right now, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, the Trevor Project at 1-866-488-7386 or reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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Photo by Will Langenberg on Unsplash


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