Friday, March 16, 2012

Dysthymia

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.  When the topic of mental health comes up around me, I always encourage open and honest discourse.  Difficulty with mental health is not something that should be swept under the rug.  Most people deal with *something* in their head at some point or another.  In conversations that I have with people about mental health, I always say it should be talked about the same way any other health condition is talked about.  If you have something wrong with any other organ in your body, you talk about it, what’s wrong with it, the different ways to treat it, etc.  The brain is an organ.  It needs to be discussed in much the same way.

So, that’s how I think mental health should be discussed.  Expect, of course, when I’m talking about me.
I posted once about my PPD, and in that post I mentioned that I’d been diagnosed with dysthymia.  And I don’t think I’ve mentioned it since, except maybe in passing once or twice.  But, the fact is, I deal with dysthymia all. the. time. 

I discovered after I was diagnosed with it that most people haven’t heard of it.  A list of symptoms generally looks something like this:
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Too little or too much sleep
  • Low energy or fatigue
  • Low self-esteem
  • Poor appetite or overeating
  • Poor concentration
I find this a pretty vague description.  When he diagnosed me, my therapist explained it like this:
normal person curve for dysthmia explanation
A normal person has highs and lows.  When a normal person has a low they get sad, but not necessarily depressed. 

My therapist said that most people live their lives in this area:
normal person curve and range,for dysthymia explanation
If you suffer from chronic depression of any kind your range is more like this:
depressed person range for dysthymia explanation
Normal people generally don’t get anywhere near it.  Any given normal person may have experienced depression at one time or another, so they’d know the difference.  When the average person says, “I’m so depressed.” they mostly mean that they feel pretty sad.

In relation to all of that, this is what dysthymia looks like:
dysthymia curve for dysthymia explanation symptoms

I think sometimes I do reach really happy highs.  But it takes extenuating circumstances:
normal person happy spikes, for dysthymia explanation
For most people, these incredible moments would look like this:
normal person happy spikes,for dysthymia explanation
And you see from the way a person with dysthymia's mood fluctuates, that the same thing that would make a normal person feel pretty sad, make me feel honest to goodness depressed:
low curver comparison, for dysthymia explanation
(mostly just kidding about the Santorum thing.  mostly.)

And things that would make a normal person feel depressed—a miscarriage, a death in the family, etc.—I don’t think there is, like, an uber depression level that I sink to.  Perhaps I’ll go more the the bottom of the range of depression, but I think rock bottom just doesn’t sink lower than what it is.

So, anyway, that’s what dysthymia is.  I don’t think it keeps me from living life for the most part.  Even at my lowest points I wake up in the morning and get things done and take care of my Things.  At my higher points I can get more done.  Is there always more I wish I could bring myself to do?  Yes.  Do I beat myself up over that a lot? Yes. I’ve been dealing with it on and off since college—although I realized that in hindsight, because I’d never heard the term until I started seeing a therapist for post partum depression after Thing 1 was born. Learning about it sure made things make sense, if you know what I mean.

There is no real consensus on what causes dysthymia, just like with depression.  My guess is that most of the time it’s a body chemistry thing.  Some people deal with it for several years, some people deal with it always.  Because pinpointing what causes it is a problem, treating is also a problem.  Some people respond well to anti-depressants (SSRIs, SNRIs, and the like).  I took Prozac when we realized I was having postpartum depression (which began for me during pregnancy-yeah, that can happen) and I responded well to it… as far as being super depressed went.  It didn’t make me normal.  And, about a year after Thing 2 was born I went off of it.  I didn’t need it for PPD anymore, and it’s not effective otherwise. 

So, I’m in the midst of exploring other options.  We’ll see how it goes.  I sure am sick of feeling bummed all the time.

That is all.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing, Bob and I agree that the topic of mental health should be an open discussion. Love you!

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  2. Thanks for sharing. I wish people were more open about mental health, but there seems to be some sort of taboo about it. I think people would feel better about their issues if they didn't feel like they had to hide from the world because of what people may think. Good for you for being open. It's hard to do, but it's the right thing to do. :)

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    Replies
    1. I think if people would talk about it more, we'd all realize how very common it is. It really shouldn't be a taboo topic.

      Thanks for your encouragement! And your good example, since you're always open with what you're going through!

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  3. I hope you'll keep us posted on any options you do find. There was an episode of Royal Pains the first year it was on that featured a teenage girl who obsessively surfed the internet looking at lists of symptoms and then being certain she suffered from everything she came across. Dr. Hank referred to her as a "cyberchondriac"--I don't want to be one of those, but a lot of the symptoms you mention--as well as the charts, ring certain bells for me. I have tried a variety of anti-depressants, but the benefits never really outweighed the side effects.

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    Replies
    1. Ha! I've only seen that show a few times, but I know the character you are talking about.

      But, really, I think dysthymia is more common than we know. Its just difficult to diagnose because most people will not complain to their doctor or go see a therapist when they are feeling blue, but functioning in life just fine. I never would have known it was a thing if I hadn't been seeing a therapist for post partum depression anyway.

      Right now I'm trying some different herbal supplements and some hypnotherapy. I'll update if I feel like I find something effective. :-)

      Delete

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