Persistent Mild Depression: Insight Into the Storm
Dysthymia: a word I was incredibly unfamiliar with up until this past year. The word sounded so foreign when the psychiatrist sitting in front of me looked at me above his glasses and without hesitation passed along the diagnosis to me. As a girl who lives with generalized anxiety disorder as well as a mild form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), this “dysthymia” word caused a certain amount of anxiety within me. My eyes must have been owl-wide as I stared at the doctor because he let out a little laugh and put down his notepad so that I could see it. He said to me, “Dysthymia comes with resilience, even in the darkest days.”
Well, that sounded a little hopeful! Resilience. It rang in my ears and shot right down to my toes. I once knew myself as a person who had a lot of resilience, but that girl who was so strong and courageous has since disappeared. I wanted her back so desperately — the girl who used to laugh, play and walk with her head held high. The girl who would so confidently walk into a grocery store. The girl who would wake up, make the effort to get dressed, look good and feel good! But over this past year I have lost her. Things started to become dull. I slowly lost the light in my eyes… and the tears! I made oceans with all those tears. It took a lot for me to get excited about something, and I honestly had to sit down and truly think of when the last time was that I felt genuinely happy… and sadly, that was a struggle.
I tried so hard to write because that girl I once knew used to write and write and write every single chance she got. She was damn good, but I couldn’t find the motivation. I tried to scrapbook and make perfection out of memories, but that motivation could not be found either. I tried to go hiking and adventure and go for walks… but my body was too tired. I was exhausted, heavy, sad and defeated. These were all terrible feelings to feel for months on end, let alone any amount of time. I started to develop separation anxiety to certain people in my life because being alone was just not fathomable. “It cannot happen,” that little voice in my head said over and over again until it became so loud I would believe it.
There are a lot of things that the little voice in my head makes me believe. Sometimes it tells me the stove burner is not off, just like a broken record or that really annoying radio commercial on the radio that just goes on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on and on. Get the point? It’s exhausting really, how much energy and time the little voice in my head takes from my day.
I’m not really open about what is going on in my life to many people, but I guess I want people to have a little bit of insight into my life and why I am the way I am. I have people who are patient with me, who don’t give up on me no matter how many times I cancel plans. I have people in my life who just hold me while I cry (when my OCD allows me to be held), which happens a surprising amount during a 24-hour timespan. But there are people who do not understand my sadness, and I guess that’s OK. Dysthymia is like being Eeyore, 24/7. You try to partake in activities, even though you feel heavy and sad. Nothing really triggers it, but if I could give you some insight into how it feels, it would be this: feeling homesick, all the time. That uneasy gut-wrenching, heart-sinking to the bottom of your stomach “I miss home” feeling. It results in random outbursts of tears, even when people around me are incredibly happy. Sometimes they look at me funny; “Why on earth is this girl crying?” they must think. Well, it’s sadness.
And sometimes it takes over. It results in panic attacks, in which that little voice becomes so loud and tells me that I cannot go to work, or that I’m going to die, or that I’m going to stop breathing or faint or have a heart attack or that my insides are shutting down and I’ll be sick forever. It results in the people around me always walking on edge because any change of plans could set me off. If we decide to go to Boston Pizza instead of Chopped Leaf after the plans have already been made, man oh man. It’s the end of the world for my wonderful little voice up there.
There have been so many times in this past year where people have told me to “just snap out of it and be happy,” and “Oh I know how you feel, I’m sad right now too and nothing in my life is going right.” I want to get one thing straight — no matter how hard you try, you cannot just simply “snap out of sadness.” Although there are things I am doing in my life to break free from these chains, it’s hard to just flick the switch and be all peachy.
I also understand that people get sad sometimes, too. It is a very valid emotion. It is a very human emotion! But when somebody who is depressed confides in you about being depressed, saying “I know what you are going through, I’m sad too, nothing in my life is going OK” isn’t the best answer. It completely belittles the person and their mental illness and makes them feel like confiding you in wasn’t the best idea. Then panic sets in… and then follows that empty feeling of being alone because your mind starts to overthink everything. Try “I’m here, what can I do?” Odds are I probably won’t have any answers, but I may surprise you and ask for a hug or a huge bag of ketchup chips and an apple juice, and ask to be held while we watch Disney movies. I know that it is so easy for people to say “it could be worse, count your blessings!” Believe me, I know it can be worse — and boy do I ever count my blessings — but this is my reality. This is what I live and have lived off and on for many years.
Through this all, I want people to know that people living with dysthymia are people. We are capable of having positive conversations with the people in our lives; it doesn’t always have to be doom and gloom. The worst thing for me is people only ever texting me to check in on my “depression scale” for that day, which I am incredibly thankful for, don’t get me wrong, but I’m also genuinely interested in your life, too. Tell me about the simple pleasures of your day, the funny conversation you overheard, the cute and adorable puppy you saw in the park. Please try to remember that just because we have a mental illness, it does not mean we are defined by it, and we are able and capable of wanting and needing those positive interactions too.
Sometimes I may come across irritable and moody and just plain grumpy, but please don’t give up on me. Please keep cracking jokes. Please don’t stop inviting me places, even though I may bail. Living with a friend or family member with this disorder, let alone the three combined, probably isn’t the easiest. Don’t worry, I get it. All I ask is that people try to understand this little Eeyore, because it’s the only way I can begin to heal.
Recovery is very hard work, but I know it will be worth it. There are days where I cannot get out of bed because the sadness is deep down to my bone. Other days, it’s manageable. I can go about my daily life but with a slight dull ache of sadness in my body. I’m fighting a war inside my head every single day… but I am resilient. I know I will never give up on myself, and I know I can push through this. And I know that sometimes, it’s okay to admit that you aren’t okay and to never be afraid to ask for help.
My dad always tells me to try and keep my world 22 degrees and sunny. I always try to keep that in mind, and to anybody else struggling with a mental illness: know and have faith that you will be OK.
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Thinkstock photo via Zhenikeyev