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My Dysthymia on Trial: How I Spent a Lifetime With an Undiagnosed Mental Illness

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Opening Statement
In criminality, unsolved cases that have lain on police files, untouched in decades, are known as “cold cases.” A technical definition is: “an unsolved criminal investigation which remains open pending the discovery of new evidence.”

I have lived with an internal “cold case” for 40 years — a grand larceny that has robbed me of everything. It has stolen my love, my health, my hope, my passion, my financial past and future, my desire for children, everything; it has taken everything. Only in the past 10 of those 40 years have I had suspicions of what was the perpetrator. Over those years, GPs and other health professionals attempted to progress the case further, but their evidence gathering has been superficial and ineffective.

On my 52nd birthday, we had a break in the case. Evidence gathering gathered pace, headed by a consultant psychiatrist, and on the 5th of June, an arrest was made. Its name: dysthymia. Finally! I have a name for the bastard!

The trial will be swift. There will be no defense; there is no defense. I am prosecutor, judge and jury. I’m going to hang, draw, electrocute and stab the bastard to death.

Case For The Defense
There is no defense.

Case For The Prosecution
The very first inkling I had that something wasn’t right, was around January or February 1979. I’m 13, I’m set out with £25, a form with the signature of the parish priest on it, a photograph of myself and told to go to the passport office in West Nile Street. In this alien world of officialdom, grown ups and offices, I had a panic attack. It manifested itself in my head as being on fire; I’d scratch and scratch, desperate to get away. I wanted out of there. I stayed. The fear of creating disappointment at home was more overwhelming. I was a scared kid most of the time. I’m a scared adult most of the time.

Wikipedia description of dysthymia: Dysthymia, now known as persistent depressive disorder (PDD), is a mood disorder consisting of the same cognitive and physical problems as in depression, with less severe but longer-lasting symptoms.

As dysthymia is a chronic disorder, those struggling with it may experience symptoms for many years before it is diagnosed, if diagnosis occurs at all. As a result, they may believe that depression is a part of their character, so they may not even discuss their symptoms with doctors, family members or friends.

I’m writing this for purely cathartic reasons. If you have chosen to read this, I don’t want your sympathy; I want no hushed tones of “Oh, poor Steph.” That is not my aim. My aim is for acceptance. At this moment in time, please accept me for everything that dysthymia has done to my personality over the years. It has made me mean, distrusting, hateful. It has also made me a Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) trained actor.

Me: Hi, how you doing? Not seen you for a while.
Mind: Oh Fuck, chit chat, I hate chit chat, right, end this now!
Them: I’m good, how’s the squirrel hunting dog doing?
Me: You know, he’s gonna be 11 this year, still chases squirrels like a puppy; he’s in good shape.
Mind: Loser! What are you doing? Why are you extending this shite? Get out now! Hear me now!
Me: Glad things are good. Need to head, gotta catch a train/meet someone for coffee/meeting to go to. Bye!
Mind: Good Boy. You know it makes sense.

What you see and what you get with me will have different perceptions from both of us.

As I said above, I was a scared child and now a scared adult. I’m frightened when the phone rings. When my buzzer or doorbell goes. Going shopping. Meeting people. Too many people. My blinds remain closed.

Every day while out with the dog, the perceptions of threat to me and Oscar can be overwhelming.

Reality: Joe Bloggs comes out of a shop on Byres Rd. He’s wearing a suit and carrying an umbrella; it’s been a showery morning.
My Perception: That bastard’s got an umbrella, he’s gonna hit Oscar. If this guy looks the wrong way at me, I’m gonna kick him up and down this street; I’ll break the umbrella off his head!
Reality: We pass each other without incident.
My Perception: Aye, just as well you didn’t start anything.
Reality: This perception is with me every day of every month of every year.

At some point in the future, either me or some poor innocent is going to get a beating.

That is a little of the background of the effects of 40 years of robbery on myself. I am a walking osmosis of the perpetrator and victim.

This 40-year robbery has left me with £32.67 in the bank. I own no property. I don’t have a car. I have no savings. I have no pension. I have a patchy and unfulfilled work history. I have no children. I have no one close to hold at night. My total assets are my photo gear and my dog.

Yeah, my photo gear. I worked as in an in-house photographer in my late teens. Low self-esteem and confidence in my early 20s put that career path on hold when I was made redundant. Thirty-one years later, as a result of money the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) owed me, I bought my first Digital SLR. If I say so myself, I’ve done not a bad job getting back into it — even picked up a few jobs that have paid me.

For 5 years I was the Chair/Financial Director of a center in Glasgow for people with disabilities. This was after a suicide attempt in 2009 and I had to give up full-time work. Everything I did was completely voluntary. The board had buried its head in the sand about the new council funding arrangements, hoping it would all go away. We employed 10 staff and were fully grant funded to the tune of £215,000 pa. I knew immediately it was in trouble. I set out a plan in my mind in 2012, hand held the organization and implemented lifesaving changes to the constitution and processes of dealing with the council. I saw the center through a new tender process and resigned in May 2016. The center was now a half a million pound social business, staff count is now 23 and we have increased our service users — helping more people with complex needs — by 75 percent. I saved the center from closure. I did that.

Now that I have a named accused — Dysthymia — it’s been a reflective week. The one question that continually comes up, and will be perpetually unanswered, is: “What if?” What if I didn’t have this chronic condition? How far could I have gone with my photography? If you use my unpaid work with the centre as the yardstick, I’d have a long term relationship with someone I love. I’d have 2.4 children. We’d have a family dog. Live in the suburbs. Shop in Waitrose. Piano lessons for the kids. We’d be lower middle-class civility!

I’ve got £32.67 in the bank right now.

Police in riot gear had to bust down my door last summer. I’m sure the two officers, who were fantastic throughout, would have been better on a Saturday night, deployed elsewhere.

The future — well, it doesn’t look good. I’m 52 with a heart condition and chronic kidney disease. Also, I’m “mental.”

There’ll be no snowbird trips to avoid the winter in my old age. It’s a comprehensive reliance on the welfare state for my food, for my shelter, for all my social interactions. I’m a condemned man by dysthymia, and judgment was passed as a boy of 13, who was a pretty decent goalkeeper, an altar boy, readings in mass, taking a blind woman for her shopping twice a week. Dysthymia put the black cap on its head and pronounced judgment when I was still innocent enough not to get all the jokes on TV.

In conclusion, I’d like to use an “It’s a Wonderful Life” movie metaphor to further my prosecution evidence. Dysthymia, I am George Bailey. There was no Clarence on the bridge when you threw me in the icy waters; no angel looking to earn its wings. You’ve held me underwater as a prisoner to your tortuous malevolence for 40 years. Occasionally and very briefly, you allow me to run with joy along the snow-covered Main Street of Bedford Falls. But you, yes you, the Mr. Potter of my mind; I hate you and I want you dead.

Guilty as charged.

Awaiting further psychiatric reports.

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 text “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

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Thinkstock photo via tab1962

Originally published: June 28, 2017
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