Dysthymia like every illness or disorder comes with its own little set of difficulties beyond the symptoms of the issue. Dysthymia’s biggest issue is in trying to explain it to other people. How do I explain something that even psychiatrists don’t truly understand? Telling people I have dysthymia goes something like this;
‘I have dysthymia, it’s a form of chronic depression’
‘Chronic? But surely you’re happy sometimes!’
‘Oh I had depression once, best cure is exercise/mindfulness/just getting on with things’
‘When I had depression I went on meds and I was fine after a few months’
‘You just need to get out there and do things’
None of this ‘advice’ helps, in fact it’s so counter helpful that it makes me want to wallop people for this sage advice. The main difference with dysthymia and clinical depression is that clinical depression has a start and an end date. Doctor’s describe dysthymia as ‘mild, chronic depression lasting two years or more’.
Now let me tell you how this description royally pisses off every dysthymic I’ve ever spoken to or read about online. ‘Mild’, being told what you have, the thing that rips you apart every single day for your entire life is mild would send the calmest sufferer into a rage but beyond my own rage it makes it seem to the ignorant that it’s not all that bad.
I asked my psychiatrist if she could choose between me giving her one big slap or five hundred medium slaps with a few big slaps thrown in there at random points which she would choose? She obviously said one big slap, to which I replied ‘So it’s not really mild then is it?’. The fact is dysthymia is the five hundred slaps, it’s constant, unceasing and omnipresent. Many dysthymia sufferers can recall moments in their very early childhood i.e. four or five years old, of wanting to die, of having this severe depression, of not feeling alive and the list of horror goes on. It’s not ‘mild’.
When I wake up (Assuming my insomnia hasn’t kept me awake all night) I’m immediately suffering with a mind that is attacking me with negative thoughts at a rate of three per second. Before my foot hits the floor I’m already exhausted from fending off these assaults. My mood has become either depressed or angry that I must deal with this again. I feel lazy, fat, ugly, stupid, good for nothing and a like loser. Then I have to get dressed…
The feeling of having to smile, be normal and interact with society sends me into a wild downward spin, I’m a helicopter and I’m coming in hard. I have to work for an hour or two on building up the monumental strength just to be able to speak without snapping at people. I fight every fiber of my being to force myself to be ‘normal’.
I feel like a large bowling ball hangs from my heart and my day and 80% of my energy is spent forcing myself to pull up against this weight. Often the crushing weight on my shoulders compels my whole body into a slump, I avoid eye contact, speaking, touch and try not to let the thoughts of wanting to die to get louder than they already scream in my head.
I run and workout five days a week, I practice mindfulness almost every day and I keep myself busy and yet the dysthymia is there, it’s always there, it never goes away and it will not be distracted from. People who don’t know me tell me I just need to go for a run to feel better… People who know me feel that I can’t be that bad if I’m out running and cracking jokes etc. But the fact is that is all a facade. The real me is inside screaming into a pillow, the real me is so angry that this is my reality that he wants to just peel this skin off and step out into the world as his own man.
But unfortunately I’m in this skin and I can’t change that. This is my reality. I have a disorder that is almost impossible to live with, that doctors barely understand, non doctors give me hideous ‘advice’ that operates to cause me more pain and feel even more isolated by the lack of understanding in my condition.
Every single moment of every single day is spent precariously balanced on the precipice of a depressive abyss. One knock or trip and down I fall into the world of double depression, now I have the depression that the others understand, except I also have the cherry that is dysthymia on top of, just to add heat to the pressure. However what is left at the end is not a diamond but a bedraggled and destroyed shell of a man who must pick up the pieces of his mind and life and try and get back to the heights of mild depression.