Monday, June 16, 2014

The Depression Post #4: Living with Dyathymia

This past weekend, I was working on a Discussion Board post for a Health and Wellness class that I am taking online this summer.  The post was meant to be related to the topic of mental health and, after some initial hesitation, I decided to open up about my own struggles with depression.  Long time readers of my blog will be familiar with my history, but for those of you who are new to this space, I thought I'd re-post my response as a way to get you up to speed.  Here it is:
Depression is an illness that I have struggled with as far back as I can remember; quite literally there I cannot remember a point in my life (even in early childhood) where I wasn’t affected by the mood disorder.  Not all “depressions” are created equally: some people only experience depression episodically and in reaction to a traumatic event, some people endure periods of crippling depression followed by manic highs, others (like me) are always somewhat depressed.  I have a form of depression that called dysthymia, or dysthymic disorder—colloquially known as “chronic depression,” “neurotic depression,” and “melancholia.” 

In layman’s terms, someone who has dysthymic disorder operates with a perpetually low mood most days for a number of years; that is to say, you’re not happy but you’re not crippled by your depression either and it’s been that way for a long time.  A common biology cause for dysthymia has yet to be found, but it is known to run in families.  In families with a history of early-onset dysthymia, individuals have a 50-50 chance of developing the disorder.  A couple of times a year, dysthymic folk will suffer a depressive episode that can last a few days or weeks.  Bad periods aside, most dysthymic people are able to maintain a relatively normal life (hold jobs, behave in socially acceptable ways) with the help of medication and psychotherapy. 

My own experiences with dysthymia have been textbook: I live a normal life with the aid of medication and biweekly psychotherapy.  As far as it can be discerned, I belong to at least the fourth generation of dysthymic individuals in my family. I cannot remember a time when I wasn’t depressed to one degree or another; my earliest memories date back to when I was about three years old.  Most days my life is like a Smiths song; sometimes it is like a Joy Division song. 

For the most part, I don’t feel stigmatized about my psychological disorder; it was a genetic roll of the dice, I could just as easily have been born with blue eyes or curly hair as with depression. It isn’t pretty, but it’s under control and I am not sure who I would be without it.  Sometimes people can be unkind and tell me to “snap out of it” or “forget about it,” but for the most part, I am surrounded by people who are understanding.  When I am having a bad day (or week, or month), I have strategies that help me recover (writing, watching movies, going for a swim, or playing with my dog).

Depression isn’t a cop out, it isn’t a fashionable or artistic way of being, and it certainly isn’t fun.  Rather, depression is an illness that is readably treatable and needn’t be an individual’s defining characteristic. 

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