Monday, 17 June 2019

Dysthymia - The Mental Health Issue No One Hears About

LONG READ.  Please note: I am not a medical professional.  I can only describe my own experiences and feelings.  If what you read here is similar to what you experience, please seek help of a professional.  I cannot give advice. Only share my own experiences.  

A little background first.

Depression arrived in my life at around the age of 18 and I have been dealing with varying degrees of it ever since.  The worst time being in my early twenties.  The best time being now, with no episodes or anything I am about to talk about for over six months.

As many who have depression do, over the years I developed many coping mechanisms, tricks and ways to hide the way that I felt.  Ways to be "normal" during work.  Ways to look happier for the people for whom my frequent depressive episodes became irritating.  

I managed to maintain a fairly successful facade for over fifteen years, but it was wholly unhealthy and I have to wonder now whether it contributed to what developed alongside my depression.

The problem with hiding yourself away and maintaining a lie is that things that would normally flag up as being wrong, are missed.   I never understood or realised that my depression was not the usual kind.  That there was more to it.  


Photo by Kristina Tripkovic on Unsplash

My depressive episodes usually start from nowhere and out of the blue.  A complete sadness and hopelessness that washes over me leading to hours/days of crying and emotional pain.  They start, I deal with them, they end.

But there were other things, permanent things, that I experienced every day that over time without realising, became the norm.  Until one day I read about Dysthymia, which is also known as Persistent Depressive Disorder.  This was something that I had never heard of before but described me perfectly and it was subsequently confirmed that this is what I had/have.  

While depression creates episodes within your life, dysthymia is your life.  It is your normal.  The way that you are.  

To someone who has never experienced dysthymia, it is hard to describe.  Parts of it link in so well with regular depression that it is easy to hide under the same diagnosis.  A constant sadness.  Feeling empty, worthless, zero self esteem.  Feeling like you will never be good enough.

But what dysthymia has which depression doesn't is a complete blunting of emotion.  You feel like you live behind a pane of frosted glass.  You know the emotions that you should, and want to feel, but they are hidden from you.  You cannot reach them.  Irritatingly, in my case, all the normal and good feelings.  The bad ones such as sadness and pain I could feel just fine.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash
There are no feelings of happiness, excitement, anticipation or hope.  I'm not talking happiness like Julie Andrews singing the Sound of Music on a mountain kind of happy, just regular day to day feeling ok.  You know what you are supposed to feel, you want to feel that way and can feel a kind of echo of that, but you never feel the real emotion.  

Your day to day emotions are one note and the colour of your life is always grey; even when your experiences are a brilliant blue sunshine.

When depression hits you, it hits harder because you are effectively experiencing what is called double depression.

I only began to realise that this was not actually the way I was meant to be, was when I started to experiences a very occasional day when dysthymia released me temporarily.    When I felt everything.  Normal emotions.   

It was the equivalent of stepping out from behind a closed door into a place that you were always meant to be, but were not allowed.

I will not say today that my dysthymia is cured, but I have not experienced it in many, many months.  I cannot really give you the reasons why.   I write more, talk more, think I am worth more.  I stopped smoking (OK OK occasionally on a weekend).  I got into a relationship and let myself be cared for. 

The door of what I feel is open and hopefully will stay that way.  I cannot go back.  Knowing how many emotions and happiness I experience now, to go back to the muting of before would be hell.

If you have felt/feel the way that I did, it is NOT normal.  It is not just your life.  Seek help.  You can get through this. 

Check out some links before if you want to explore further:

Symptoms of Persistent Depressive Disorder - Mayo Clinic

Understanding Dysthymia

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